Monday, July 10, 2017

Part One: Understanding the Social Construction of Boundaries

[Please note that this version of this text has been recovered from an early draft due to a server crash. There may be a few typos and even mistakes in the following]

Both sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1990; 1993) and animal rights philosopher Tom Regan (1983; 2001) note that the ‘the universe of moral obligations’ is remarkably ‘non-universal’.  While Bauman claims that human beings have demonstrated an apparent ‘need’ to draw categorical divisions and boundaries between groups, Regan asserts that exercises of exclusion have created ‘less than ideal’ moral communities.  Both theorists suggest further that a great deal of human effort is expended in ‘guarding’ carefully drawn boundaries.  The following section outlines, in a general sense, how and, to some extent, why, boundaries are socially constructed.  Subsequent chapters turn to reflections of modern human-nonhuman relations claims (and various reactions to them); for example, animal rights claims which state that the species ‘boundary’ or ‘barrier’ should no longer be regarded as a sufficient reason to exclude animals-other-than-human from moral consideration, and that this consideration ought to amount to more than traditional animal welfare views of human-nonhuman relations.

          For advocates of animal rights, what follows may serve to inform their campaigning strategies in the sense that animal advocacy challenges some of the relevance of moral boundary drawing and yet, through Bauman’s analysis, it may be seen - and must be appreciated by campaigners - that boundary drawing has, historically, had a great deal of utility and advantage for those who draw them.  In other words, boundary drawing is an efficacious method of defining notions of ‘my group’, one of, possibly, several groups that members of society rely on for the everyday knowledge that they need to survive.  Bauman asserts that much essential and routine social knowledge is acquired in early childhood, thus a great deal of what is assumed to be required for ‘successful’ social living involves boundary-drawing activities that may encourage a resistance toward any subsequent claims that seek to effectively weaken or destroy boundaries of discrimination that exist even among human groups. 

          All seasoned social movement and political campaigners, along with other advocates of radical change, will recognise much truth in Bauman’s implication that human beings are never entirely free from their past in which socialised boundary drawing has created meaningful ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories, often based on visible distinctions and differences, where ‘they’ are poorly understood and therefore defensively constructed as ‘outsiders’ and ‘strangers’ who are potentially frightening. 

Boundaries effectively produce ‘moral distance’ with regard to constructed ‘others’; thus boundaries keep ‘them’ at bay, serving to emphasise distance and difference, perhaps holding ‘them’ up to ridicule or ‘humorous’ debasement.  Often jokes and joking relations can construct and reflect the distancing of ‘others’: often jokes and joking can amplify the putative stupidity of ‘the other’, serving to dehumanise and depersonalise those placed in ‘them’ categories, while the moral status of ‘us’ is simultaneously elevated.  A sufficiency of distance (social and moral) can apparently result in untold cruelty and utter disregard for the rights of those successfully classified as ‘other’.  As seen in subsequent sections, if a boundary of distinction is ostensibly ‘sturdy’ enough, especially if created and ideologically maintained by authoritative social agents, then one community can end up murdering and raping its way through another.  

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