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INTERVIEW

Dr. Kim Socha, author of Women, Destruction, and the Avant-Garde: A Paradigm for Animal Liberation.

Interviewed by Anthony J. Nocella II1


Kim Socha, a Philadelphia native, now resides in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Holding a Ph.D. in Literature and Criticism, she is an English instructor at Normandale Community College with scholarship on topics such as critical pedagogy, surrealism, critical animal studies and Latino/a literature. As her avocations, Kim has assisted survivors of domestic violence in their recoveries and works in the area of prison abolition social justice activism. Kim is also an animal liberation advocate and sits on the boards of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies and the Animal Rights Coalition. Her book Women, Destruction, and the Avant-Garde: A Paradigm for Animal Liberation was published in December 2011 by Rodopi Press.

Anthony J. Nocella II: Thank you, Kim, for allowing me this opportunity to interview you about your book, Women, Destruction, and the Avant-Garde: A Paradigm for Animal Liberation (2011). I am especially excited about this book because it is the first of the Critical Animal Studies Book Series that is edited by Vasile Stanescu and Helena Pedersen, which is published by Rodopi Press.

My first question before moving into the book is about you is general. Tell us a little about yourself and where you grew up.

Kim Socha: I grew up in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. My upbringing was fairly mundane. I was raised in a conservative Catholic household, but as I went through college and then graduate school, I began questioning certain cultural truths that have become the

Anthony J. Nocella II prominent author, community organizer, and educator, teaches Urban Education in the Hamline University's School of Education. He received his Ph.D. in Social Science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Nocella focuses his attention on urban education, peace and conflict studies, inclusive social justice education, environmental education, disability pedagogy, queer pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, critical pedagogy, anarchist studies, critical animal studies, and hip-hop pedagogy. He is the co-founder of the field of critical animal studies, eco-ability, critical urban education, and the Institute for Critical Animal Studies.
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basis of my activism. I believe that my social awakening, for lack of a better phrase, was enhanced by my love of reading diverse books, traveling abroad and being inquisitive about why people act and think the ways that they do. This brought me in touch with various groups of people and led to many influential and transformative experiences. In retrospect, and without getting too personal, even the most troubling of times benefited me in different ways.

AN: With coming from Philadelphia, meeting so many diverse people, and having so many powerful experiences, when did you become involved in social justice and more specifically animal advocacy?

KS: I wish I could report that my social justice activism and animal advocacy started earlier than it did. However, I was a shy child and teen, and this introversion kept me from getting active sooner. Even during my masters program, I was an introvert. It was during my Ph.D. program in 2006 that I realized the importance of acting on my ideologies. When I started my dissertation research on the animal rights movement, I began to take action by volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter, speaking on animal rights at my university and obtaining a paraprofessional certificate in crisis counseling for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Once receiving my doctorate and moving to Minnesota for a full-time teaching job, activism became fully entrenched in my life. I now sit on the board of ICAS and a local abolitionist animal advocacy group, and I volunteer in various capacities with incarcerated youth and adults. As to animal advocacy in particular, three books greatly influenced me: Carol Adamss The Sexual Politics of Meat; Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?, which, of course, you edited and contributed to with Steve Best; and Bob Torress Making a Killing. These texts introduced me to interconnected oppressions, but it was the latter two that also got me interested in direct action and anarchism as complements to my animal liberation activism and scholarship.

AN: There are so many activists that, for good reason, oppose higher education and school in general. Briefly, what are your thoughts about school and higher education?

KS: The school system, from K-12 to higher education, is flawed, mainly because of standardization and the lack of cohesion amongst segmented subjects that should to be interconnected and studied with more creativity. However, I am not opposed to schooling, but
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to how schools are run. And, of course, socio-economic and racial biases render all schooling inherently flawed as well.

I also think there is too much pressure on students to go to college, especially right out of high school. Cultureat least American culturedevalues technical skills and the honor that comes from what is traditionally seen as blue collar jobs. Further, I do not believe that a degree (or degrees) equates with intelligence. I think that everyone should be educated, but that education can come through reading, attending cultural festivals, engaging with those outside our immediate communities, etc. To further explain, I cite a Malcolm X quote with which you are familiar: Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. I believe this completely. I just do not believe that education must always come through traditional schooling, especially when that schooling paradigm is founded in European, patriarchal models of learning.

My final critique of higher education is that it too often becomes bogged down in theory, ignoring the application of thought to action. This is why I am determined to remain an activist even as I continue to pursue theoretical approaches to the issues that most interest me.

AN: What specifically influenced you to get a doctorate in English, and did you always know you wanted to teach at a community college? What is it about community colleges that you value and appreciate, as compared to four-year private colleges or huge research universities? KS: Im aware that I just kind of disparaged formal education in my last response, so I hope my response here will clarify some things. The simple answer is that as a shy, sensitive child, I found solace in literature. So, when entering college, it made sense to major in English. My undergraduate instructors were so encouraging of my work, that I decided to pursue a masters in the discipline. Once I got my M.A. at Rutgers, I entered the workforce and found that any jobs I took on seemed to have a one-year life span (as an editor, administrative assistant, etc.), after which I would resign. Then, on a whim, I applied to a community college and began teaching, mostly composition courses, as an adjunct instructor. I had found a job that I could see myself doing indefinitely, and this is still the case!

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However, the job market is rough, so I figured that obtaining a Ph.D. might improve my chances of finding full-time work in higher education; plus, obtaining a doctorate had always been a personal goal. In the meantime, I have had the opportunity to teach at four-year universities, but I never wavered from my desire to teach at a community college because of their policy of open enrollment. College degrees used to be the province of the financially privileged, but I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to be formally educated even though I maintain that the cultural emphasis on formal education needs to be challenged. I teach at an urban college to a truly diverse population of students, many of whom are immigrants from around the globe. I also teach so-called traditional students who have just left high school and those returning to school after years of being in the workforce and raising families. In sum, I love working with a diverse student body in an environment where all are welcome.

AN: Now that we know a good amount about you, what influenced you to write this book?

KS: In Spring 2007, I took a class with Dr. Mike Sell at Indiana University of Pennsylvaniawhere I obtained my Ph.D.called Critical Vanguard Studies, a student of avant-garde literary, artistic and political movements. (In fact, Mike coined the term Critical Vanguard Studies.) My final assignment involved a bibliographical assignment that could serve as the basis for a later, larger project. After learning about the avant-garde, my working thesis became that the animal liberation movement is part of that legacy in significant and socially meaningful ways. My research process solidified my belief in the thesis, and, not to be an apple polisher, but reading Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? was also a major influence on me and my scholarship. This all led to my dissertation, which served as the basis of my book. I really wanted a text that would be interdisciplinary and socially significant for animals, women and other oppressed groups, and not another lengthy literary analysis coming from an English Ph.D., not that there is anything wrong with lengthy literary analyses!

AN: What unique point does this book bring to the discourse of critical animal studies?

KS: I believe this is one of the first texts, if not the first, to directly integrate the animal liberation movement into the history of the avant-garde, with specific focus on the Surrealists. (Whether that is a good or bad application is up to the individual reader to decide.) I also
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make this point by fusing animal rights and the avant-garde with anarchism, radical feminist manifestos, performance art, popular culture, true crime, etc. But although there are many threads to this study, animal liberation is always at its core. My hope is that the books intersectional nature will interest those from other disciplines: feminists, critical vanguard scholars, critical race scholars, etc., thus allowing them to see the webbed nature of oppression, especially the role that nonhumans play therein.

AN: Not to give this book away for future readers, but could you tells us what you want the reader to leave the book thinking about and engaged in doing?

KS: This is a difficult question because there is so much I want readers to get from the book. Therefore, Ill answer with a quote from the text that serves as one of its foundations: Those who want to change the world have to be willing to give up what they enjoy of that world. Many, myself included, benefit and indulge in the very systems against which we contend. Our complicity in authoritarianism and oppression must by confronted by all, even the most righteous and vigilant among us. Inherent in this comment is a challenge to the idea of ownership. So much suffering and oppression evolves out of the belief that others human/nonhuman, sentient/non-sentientare ours to own and do with as we will. Worldwide treatment of nonhuman animals epitomizes this belief in ways that confound the mind. I believe all we really own are our bodily selves, which is why I argue for corporeal integrity throughout the text, but this should not signify some kind of ego-driven individualism. People need to engage with the world and then consider and fight the ways violence and oppression manifest on micro- and macro-levels.

That sounds like a pretty negative view of life, so I want to end on a positive note: I think we can do this; I think we can change things. Im not forecasting an immediate global revolution ending in an Edenic vegan paradise (although that would be nice). Rather, I am saying that we can, as activists, help others see things, including other beings, in a different way especially nonhuman animals. And when this new vision is adopted by successive individuals, this already beautiful world becomes more radiant.

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