Katja M. Guenther
Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies
University of California, Riverside, USA
University of California, Riverside, USA
My main areas of research, writing, and activism are feminist politics and human exploitation of non-human animals. I am interested in understanding how and why inequalities of gender, race, class, ability, and species reproduce so reliably, and what we can do to challenge these inequalities. I seek to develop scholarship that is useful because it challenges existing ideas, improves our understanding of important social processes, and/or imagines new possibilities. I believe creating another world is possible. I hold a PhD in Sociology and work within interdisciplinary feminist and critical frameworks. I consider my core areas of research, teaching, and activism to center on feminist politics and movements (especially at the grassroots level), women's organizing, social inequalities of race, class, and gender, the state, feminist animal studies, disability studies, and death studies.
My newest book, The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, was published by Stanford University Press in August, 2020, and is the 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Book Award given by the American Sociological Association's Section on Animals & Society. The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals takes readers inside one of the country's highest intake animal shelters. Over the course of three years of ethnographic research, I met thousands of animals, and saw the dramatic variance in the narratives assigned them and, ultimately, their chances for survival. I argue that the inequalities in how impounded animals are treated and whether they live or die are powerfully linked to human ideas about race, class, gender, ability, and species. By decoding the language and behaviors of shelter staff and volunteers, I explore internal hierarchies, breed discrimination, and importantly, instances of resistance and agency. Current efforts to help shelter animals largely fail to address the underlying causes of companion animal homelessness, such as poverty and precarity. The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals offers a radical rethinking of the problem of shelter confinement and death, demanding a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans and companion animals and forcing us to rethink our relationships with the animals we claim as "best friends."
I am currently developing a feminist analysis of how rescuers of companion and free-roaming (aka "wild" animals) represent and negotiate their relationships and relations of care with disabled animals. I am also engaged in research on the roles community (aka "feral") cats occupy in low-income communities and the relationships they build with human caregivers.
My first book, Making Their Place: Feminism After Socialism in Eastern Germany (Stanford University Press, 2010) examines how gender and opportunities for feminist resistance vary across places and scales of governance. The book illuminates how feminist movements in two cities in eastern (formerly socialist) Germany, Erfurt and Rostock, utilized local understandings of politics and gender to enhance their possibilities for meaningful social change. The book chronicles the specific reasons why place matters, the importance of localized experiences during the socialist era, and how history shapes contemporary identities, cultures, and politics.
I have also written extensively on secular activism, particularly within the New Atheist Movement, a social movement focused on reducing the social stigma associated with atheism and irreligion and on enforcing the separation of church and state. I conducted interviews with dozens of leaders and participants in the New Atheist Movement, and attended numerous movement events. I used this data to analyze a number of different processes, including boundary work and collective identity and gender inequalities within the movement.
I am the co-editor, with Marta Maria Maldonado, of a special issue of Feminist Formations (2019) on critical feminist exits, or the relocation of critical feminist scholars across departments, institutions, and disciplines as an outcome of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and/or hostile work environment.
My scholarly work has been published in journals such as Ethnic & Racial Studies, Gender & Society, Mobilization, Politics & Gender, Signs, Social Problems, Sociological Forum, and Women's Studies International Forum, among others.
You can learn more about my publications (and access links to most of them) under the RESEARCH tab on this webpage.
Photo: Maple, a pit bull my wife and I fostered after she was rescued from a high-kill southern California shelter.
Photo description: In the center of the image, a fawn pit bull with bright brown eyes sits looking up at the camera, her head cocked to one side. She is wearing a collar with tag and is sitting in a gravel area that looks like a desert or Japanese garden. The photo is black and white.