Focus Statement + Agency Debate

After reading a chapter from Single’s Demystifying the Dissertation entitled, “The Focus Statement,” I took a stab at creating my own focus statement out of the research project I have developed thus far:

My research focuses on war dogs, their relationships with their human companions, and the ways in which said dogs were presented to the civilian public during World War I in order to boost morale.

A current debate that resonates most readily with my research is that of animal agency. Indeed, discussions of agency developed in the 1980s and at first focused on groups of people who have been marginalized in the past such as women and slaves. Recently, however, the debates have shifted to include animals as well. Some questions that have been raised: do animals have agency? Can animals be said to be similar to humans in their ability to have agency? Do other non-human entities have agency?

Although not the primary concern of my work, agency is still highly relevant to my discussion of dogs in wartime: did dogs willingly go into battle, serving alongside their human counterparts? Did dogs choose to be brave and courageous under times of immense duress? This then leads one to perhaps wonder: why does this issue matter? Why are discussions of agency important? This is difficult to pin down and the answer could potentially be different for a variety of historians and scholars, alike. For this historian, it is a crucial question because it makes dogs a much more complex aspect of warfare rather than another mere means of technology, put to work purely for man’s own purposes.