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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kathryn Anne Gillespie
CHID 480
Seattle Campus

Special Topics: Advanced Study of the History of Ideas

Examines a different subject or problem from a comparative framework with an interdisciplinary perspective. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle. Gucci, Armani, Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum. Paris, New York, Milan. The modern fashion industry is an amalgamation of corporate media giants, designer brands, individual icons, and select urban centers. Fashion is also embodied in the functional, everyday choices we make about what to wear, how these articles of clothing contribute to the construction of our identities, and why we make the choices we do.

Thus, fashion is at once a celebration of the extraordinary, the astonishing, the unexpected and the ordinary, the mundane, the everyday. From the catwalks of Paris and Milan to the streets of Lynnwood and Tacoma, fashion—the clothing we wear—is connected to complex cultural, economic, political and ethical networks. And throughout time, animals have been deeply embedded at the heart of these networks through the use of their skin, their bones, their teeth, their hair, their feathers, their tails and other body parts in human fashion. These industries use various bodies and labor—human and animal—in commodity production.

Animal use is ubiquitous in fashion and this course uses animals and fashion as a lens to get at three important intellectual sites of inquiry: 1) It will offer students the chance to explore the complex political, economic, and cultural dimensions of a multi-billion dollar industry with relevance for their everyday experience, 2) it will encourage students to reflect on the personal, ethical, and intellectual dimensions of human/animal relations in specific empirical and more theoretically abstract ways, and 3) it will ask students to explore the ways in which aesthetics and a culture of consumption are deployed to obscure the exploitation of humans and animals alike in sites of commodity production.

In addition to the more overt explorations of animal justice in the fur, leather, feather, wool, silk, and bone industries, the course material also addresses issues of human and environmental justice. Humans and the environment, like animals, are made vulnerable by the production and reproduction of fashion trends and the networks that promote these trends. Thus, students will begin by engaging with questions of vulnerable economies of export around the globe, sweatshop and child labor, environmental destruction and toxic effects of the fashion industry. An intersectional approach not only connects social justice issues of animals, humans and the environment to each other, but it also acts as a location for students to personally engage with these issues on their own terms.

Students are asked to come to the first day of class having recently read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to spark a conversation about cultures of consumption and the power of aesthetics. Within the context of thinking about aesthetics and consumption, the first part of the course develops an empirical and theoretical base informed by a Marxist social anarchist critical theory and an intersectional approach to thinking about humans and animals in the fashion industry. Building on this framework the course will explore in four specific case studies of animal use in fashion—fur, feathers, wool and leather. Finally, Part 3 of the course is dedicated to students sharing what they’ve learned about their own chosen topics through in-depth final project presentations.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

The course will be taught as a seminar, featuring discussion and will require participation from all class members.

Recommended preparation

Open mind and willingness to engage with material through a variety of readings and writing assignments.

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Kathryn Anne Gillespie
Date: 11/15/2013