Chargement Évènements
  • Cet évènement est passé

“Eating or not Eating Animals. Sociability and Ethics around the Table”

Organisers: Florence Magnot-Ogilvy (Laboratoire CELLAM, Rennes 2) and Sophie Mesplède (Laboratoire ACE, Rennes 2)

Date: Thursday 6 June 2024

Location: Université Rennes 2


This study day is supported by the GIS Sociabilités/ Sociability.

More (including bibliography) on the GIS website at




Since the non-human turn of the early 21st century, numerous critical works have examined the animal question in the 18th century, a time when humanity’s place in the world, the relationship between human beings and non-human animals, the latter’s sensibility and debates on the sensory soul were at the heart of the reflections of philosophers, physicians, naturalists and educationalists.


Few studies, however, have explored the question of meat- and non-meat-eating patterns specifically from the point of view of sociability. Yet the issue formed one of the dividing lines in sociability, between men and women, young and old, people from different backgrounds, but also, in a new way, between humans and non-humans, in a century in which pets were playing an increasingly important role in human sociability. As more and more human beings developed unique emotional relationships with cats, dogs, monkeys and birds, to name but a few companion species, the question arose as to whether or not the bodies of animals credited with sensibility should be consumed. Some naturalists and writers, such as the Englishman Lord Monboddo and the hunter-philosopher Charles Georges Leroy, author of Lettres sur les animaux, recognized the ability of these animals to aggregate into communities that they felt were close to human societies. The tradition of the metempsychosis narrative, revived by the vogue for Orientalism, was then articulated in an unprecedented way with reflections on point of view, sensibility and individuality.


In the 18th century, the abstinence from meat practiced for religious reasons and that driven by medical concerns (in George Cheyne’s writings, for example, where the question of diet was also linked to an imagination of power) was joined by that born of ethical considerations regarding the duties of humans towards other animals. The latter would profoundly question the dividing line between humanity and animality in European cultures won over by the imperatives of sensibility. The philosophical writings of Voltaire, Diderot, Condillac and Rousseau on the nature of this boundary and the consequences to be drawn from it in terms of food were to be read throughout Europe. Meanwhile, their fictions were supported by a food imaginary weighed down by moral and political values, from Zadig‘s supper to the gendered eating habits of Clarens as set out by Saint-Preux in one of the letters of La Nouvelle Héloïse. Across the Channel, it was often men of faith who spoke out against the cruelty inflicted on other species, and called for reflection on the modalities of their killing as much as on its finality. If the barbaric treatment of certain animals jeopardized the moral fiber of human beings, as William Hogarth’s series of engravings entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751) helped to bring to light for a large English audience, what about the consumption of their flesh? “Vegetarianism », a term that did not appear until the middle of the 19th century, seemed to an increasing number of men and women to be a virtuous option that, although not always practiced, provided a subject for reflection and discussion in the context of enlightened sociability.


This study day, devoted to the debates surrounding the consumption of animals during the Enlightenment and the reconfiguration of positions that took place at the time, invites us to examine the question of a meat-eating habits insofar as these intersected with the emergence of new forms of sociability in Europe. It will look at how discussions about the ontological status of non-human animals helped redefine European sociability, where flesh-eating was a regular practice encouraged by the commercial ventures of the long 18th century.


Current debates around vegetarianism, veganism, anthropocentrism and the gendered nature of food invite us to go back to the origins of modernity, and to re-interrogate the Enlightenment on the place and role of non-human animals in what constitutes society. With this in mind, we will look at the many representations, both textual and pictorial, evoking the consumption of animal bodies in various social and literary contexts:


  • In the visual arts: iconographic representations of animals killed or fattened for human consumption (hunting pictures, portraits of livestock, still-life paintings), animal carcasses, culinary preparations that visibly include them, market stalls and kitchen tables, the presence of animals in banqueting scenes, scenes of animals being fed, visual associations between femininity and animal flesh, caricatures and satirical representations, illustrations for fables, educational texts or scientific publications, etc.
  • In literature: the representation of discussions about food and drink (table discussions, the material conditions of debates on the issue, the modalities of conversations, arguments and debates), hygiene-related considerations about children’s diets, the influence of flesh consumption on human morals, the link between what people ate and who they were, whether and how this type of discourse was influenced by the different literary genres, etc.
  • In the periodical press, in essays, political writings and pamphlets: how and when the issue was used to support a particular argument.
  • In scientific writings (naturalist, veterinary, and medical writings): the extent to which they took the ongoing changes in morals and attitudes towards animals into account


Proposals (with a provisional title, a 250-word summary and a brief biobibliography of the author) for the study day should be sent before 15 March 2024 to


Florence Magnot-Ogilvy


Sophie Mesplède


Papers may be presented in French or English.


Scientific committee


  • Jacques Berchtold (Sorbonne Université/ Fondation Bodmer)
  • Valérie Capdeville (Université Rennes 2)
  • Émilie Dardenne (Université Rennes 2/ IUF)
  • Jean-Luc Guichet (Université de Picardie)
  • David Mc Callam (University of Sheffield)
  • Florence Magnot-Ogilvy (Université Rennes 2)
  • Sophie Mesplède (Université Rennes 2)
  • Kimberley Page-Jones (Université de Bretagne Occidentale)
  • Sophie Vasset (Université Paul Valéry)
  • Phil Withington (University of Sheffield)