Critical animal studies (CAS) is an interdisciplinary field in the humanities and social sciences and a theory-to-activism global community. It emerged in 2001 with the founding of the Centre for Animal Liberation Affairs by Anthony J. Nocella and Steven Best, which in 2007 became the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS). The core interest of CAS is ethical reflection on relations between humans and other animals, firmly grounded in trans-species intersectionality, environmental justice, social justice politics and critical analysis of the underlying role played by the capitalist system. Scholars in the field seek to integrate academic research with political engagement and activism.
CAS traces its history to critical social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, when ecological and animal questions entered the academic debate. This was also when the first animal liberation movements, Bands of Mercy and Animal Liberation Front, emerged. The institutional history began in 2001 when the Centre for Animal Liberation Affairs (CALA) was established by Steven Best and Anthony Nocella. Over the following years, CALA conducted research on issues related to animal exploitation, provided education and analysis, and advised on policy. Two major initiatives were the annual Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Conference and the founding of the Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, later renamed the Journal for Critical Animal Studies. The name of the movement (CAS) emerged in 2006, as a consequence of long-term discussions among activists and scholars who collaborated with CALA. In April 2007, CALA changed its name to the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS).
ICAS is a private organization run by a Board of Executive Directors, who are responsible for making major decisions concerning its mission, strategic plans and principles. Since 2011 the institution has been an international network, with branches in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania. It has since established a series of initiatives, such as the Students for Critical Animal Studies, the Intersectional Research Collective, the Annual Tilikum Awards, and the Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Críticos Animales (Spanish Journal for Critical Animal Studies). In 2014, ICAS published and edited a volume entitled "Defining Critical Animal Studies: An Intersectional Social Justice Approach for Liberation" (co-edited by Anthony J. Nocella II, John Sorenson, Kim Socha, and Atsuko Matsuoka). The publication defines the basic aims and principles of the movement. ICAS also issues three journals—Journal for Critical Animal Studies, Peace Studies Journal, and Green Theory and Praxis.
The principles guiding CAS's work were included in the article "Introducing Critical Animal Studies", published in the Journal of the Critical Animal Studies in 2007.
There are significant differences between critical animal studies and animal studies. CAS is a more radical option, overtly underlining the need for political engagement and advocating direct action, which may be considered controversial in traditional academic circles. Supporters of CAS often emphasize that, although animal studies has made a large contribution to growing awareness about the complexities of human–animal relations, it lacks a deep moral engagement and remains detached from the most significant problems. It is worth considering that the term "animal studies" refers to diverse scholars and methodologies, some of which clearly state the need for ethical commitment.
According to Dinker and Pedersen, critical animal studies involves both a critical-analytic and an affirmative-transformative approach to animals and affect.: 419 One of the core purposes of the critical animal studies, according to them, is working against all forms of oppression and commodification: 420 by "breaking the silences normally surrounding the situation of animals in human society.": 419 Species-inclusive intersectionality education is a key dimension of critical animal studies, which identifies several ways in which speciesism intersects with other social justice issues such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism.: 420