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What Has Recent Scholarship Done to Undermine its ‘Thorough-Going Speciesism’?
What Has Recent Scholarship Done to Undermine its ‘Thorough-Going Speciesism’?
Along with an absolutely huge amount of media coverage about ‘animal rights’ activism, albeit with severely limited exploration and elaboration of genuine animal rights philosophy and claims-making, the last two decades in particular have witnessed a remarkable increase in the academic interest in the social sciences and the humanities in ‘Animal Studies’. A good many of this engagement incorporates new thoughts and research about nonhuman capabilities, and investigates ‘animal rights’ activism and thought on some level or other.
With regard to philosophical works about human-nonhuman relations, Tom Regan (2001: 67) states that philosophers ‘have written more about animal rights in the past twenty years than their predecessors wrote in the previous two thousand’. Historian of animal welfarism and rights, Hilda Kean (1998: 8), says this relatively recent interest has resulted in animal issues being ‘news’ in the last few years, while sociologist Adrian Franklin (1999: 1) states that, ‘Interest in human-animal relations has expanded considerably over recent years in both [sic] intellectual, political and policy terms’.
Writing about the animal movement as a ‘radical social movement’, Guither (1998: 5) notes that part of the recent interest in animal protection issues in North America is due to the animal movement being regarded as the ‘successor to the antiwar and human rights crusades of the 1960’s and 1970’s’. The 1990’s has also seen the founding of a three-times-a-year publication from Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PSYETA) entitled Society & Animals. This academic journal includes psychological, sociological and criminological research, amongst work from other disciplines, all focused on some aspect of the various issues concerned with human-nonhuman relations, although it cannot by any means be regarded as a strictly animal rights-inspired publication. By 2003, Society & Animals was in its 11th volume dedicated to publishing ‘studies which describe and analyse our experience of nonhuman animals’ and to stimulate and support ‘an emerging content area within the social sciences and the humanities’. ‘Animal Rights Law’ is another recently emerging discipline, especially in the United States of America, with university courses – the first ever on animal rights and the law began by Gary Francione in 1989 – now established across the USA.
This section is a brief description of some of the academic work which may be regarded as a response to the 1970’s emergence of second wave animal advocacy. The section is designed to broadly illustrate the wide range of new and on-going research and theorising about human-nonhuman relations, rather than going into great detail or criticism of any of them. Furthermore, the extent to which any example actively engages with rights thinking, rather than rhetorical ‘animal rights’ campaigning, is variable.
After two years of planning a preparation, the Center on Animal Liberation Affairs (CALA), which is run by ‘the academic animal rights community’, was fully established in 2003. CALA’s prime movers are Anthony J. Nocella II and Steve Best; their mission statement reads:
As the first scholarly center dedicated to philosophical discussion on animal liberation, CALA strives to advance the study, research, and dialogue of the principles and practices of animal rights and animal liberation.
CALA argue that it is time for the scholarly investigation of the animal liberation movement in a similar vein to the academic attention given to organisations such as the Black Panther Party, the Irish Republican Army, The Basques, the Japanese Red Army, the African National Congress, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation, and the Zapatistas:
The time is ripe for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) also to receive serious scholarly attention. Since its inception in
1970s, its migration to the England in the 1980s, and the subsequent
spread of ALF cells around the world, the ALF has racked up an impressive
record of success for the cause of animal liberation. They have broken into hundreds of
laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, and other hellholes of animal exploitation
to liberate tens of thousands of animals that otherwise didn’t have a
chance. They have inflicted millions of
dollars of property damage on institutions of animal exploitation in order to
slow down or shut down their blood-stained operations. They have inspired countless activists with
their courage and conviction. They
surely have captured the attention of the FBI who, in the age of the Patriot
Act, elevated them and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) to the top two
“domestic terrorist” groups in the nation.
And so long as animals are being maimed, poisoned, burned, confined,
tortured, and murdered at the hands of butchers in white coats or in search of
greenbacks, the ALF is here to stay. United
Taking this level of academic objectivity and value neutrality displayed in this passage, CALA have begun to organise conferences and take part in others, such as the ‘One Struggle Conference’ in December 2002 at the University of St. Thomas, USA. Within a clear commitment to study activism, CALA nevertheless promise a scholarly investigation of the philosophy of animal rights and animal liberation. In this they have earned the support of Tom Regan who writes on the CALA home page: ‘CALA offers something new in the struggle for animal rights: an independent platform for all voices speaking to the issue, without interruption, whatever the message. Here, finally, is a place where the philosophical and strategic foundations of animal rights can be explored, fully and fairly’.
Quite understandably, the very emergence of ‘the animal rights movement’ as a visible and vocal social mobilisation has provoked a good deal of social research on the phenomenon (see, for example, Jasper & Nelkin 1992; Sperling 1988, Garner 1993, Guither 1998, Kean 1998). Such work tends to analyse animal rights, animal liberation and animal welfare positions with a stress on the political and social attitudes and the interaction of those who take up various forms of animal advocacy (Groves 1995; Jasper & Poulsen 1995). There is also a good deal of interest, like CALA’s, in animal advocates’ campaigning or attitudinal links with human rights issues, and ‘social justice’ and ‘human social issues’ campaigning (see, for example, Nilbert 1994; Friedrich 2000).
According to Adrian Franklin (1999: 1), zoologists, sociobiologists, psychologists, veterinary scientists, geographers and sociologists are currently among the ‘range of disciplines which have an interest in [human-nonhuman relations] and their specificities’. Stating that the field of human-nonhuman relations is rapidly becoming one of the ‘hot areas of debate in the social sciences’, increasingly occupying the centre stage once held by the study of ‘the environment’ (ibid.), Franklin identifies some of the ‘several fronts’ of this relative recent academic interest:
· the philosophy and politics of animal rights (citing, as examples,
1993; Midgley 1979, 1994); Benton
· the sociology of animal rights (Tester 1992);
· histories of human-animal relations (Ritvo 1987, 1994; R.H. Thomas 1983);
· the social anthropology of human-animal relations (Cartmill 1993; Ingold 1988);
· animal foods and animals in diets (Bourdieu 1984; Douglass 1975, 1984; Fiddes 1991; Goodman and Redclift 1991; Mannell 1993; Twigg 1983; Vialles 1994);
· animals, nature and gender (Gaard 1993; Norwood 1993);
· hunting and fishing sports in modernity (Cartmill 1993; Hummel 1994; Ritvo 1987);
· pets or companion animals (Serpell 1986, 1995; Serpell and Paul 1994);
· animals, tourism and zoos (Bostock 1993; Mullan and Marvin 1987);
· the sociology of nature (Macnaughten and Urry 1995; Murphy 1995).
As well as prompting subsequent work by others (see Flynn 2001), Beirne has continued throughout the 1990’s in developing the sociological study of animal abuse, for example, when proposing replacing of the traditional term ‘bestiality’ with the more appropriate and descriptive phrase ‘interspecies sexual assault’. Again, the explicit intention in this work is to directly emphasise the central locus in the victimhood of the animals used, abused and sometimes killed by humans for their sexual satisfaction. As noted much earlier in this thesis, it also might be expected that future development in the field of zemiology will feature a ‘nonspeciesist’ dimension to its analysis of harm.
In 1998, Robert Agnew provided a social-psychological analysis of animal abuse, presented as a starting point for further research and based on sociological theories of strain, social control and social learning. This endeavour has been described by Clifton Flynn (2001: 82) as the first fully-fledged theory of animal abuse. Agnew’s paper is particularly interesting because it explicitly acknowledges the theoretical and practical problems created by notions of ‘socially-accepted’ animal abuse and ‘socially-unacceptable’ animal abuse (Agnew 1998: 202). Thus, the author notes that much of the early interest in animal abuse research has tended to uncritically adopt a model based on a differentiation that led to a concentration on the abuse of pets, for example. This work failed to explicitly place such abuse, as Cazaux (1999) rightly does, in the context of their occurrence in animal-exploiting societies in which animal harm is routine and on a mass scale, involving literally billions of unseen and generally unacknowledged individual sufferers (see Baker 1993 for more on this).
According to Steve Baker (1996), academic feminism particularly since the 1990’s has made a crucial contribution to ‘academic animal advocacy’ (see, as examples,
Adams 1990; 1994; Birke 1994; Adams & Donovan
1995). As recognised throughout this
thesis, this feminist-inspired work remains important in emphasising explorations
of interrelationships in ostensibly different and allegedly unconnected forms
of harm. Recent work in this field,
building directly on Carol Adam’s Sexual
Politics of Meat thesis which is described by its author as a version of
critical theory, includes an exploration of the political and cultural
significance of presenting ‘food animals’ in sexualised and pornographic
poses. This phenomenon has recently been
theorised as a product of ‘anthropornography’ by Amie Hamlin ( Adams
2001a). Adams herself has recently
completed a ethnographic project based on the experience of ‘living among meat
eaters’ which offers vegetarians and vegans advice about the prospect of living
amidst ‘animal oppressors’, including ‘blocked vegetarians’, a potential and
optimistic new way of looking at meat eating (Adams 2001b).
Reflecting the increasing scholarly interest in human-nonhuman relations and in ‘animal studies’ generally, the University of Sheffield hosted a wide-ranging conference in July, 2000 entitled ‘Millennial Animals’, based on ‘theorising and understanding the importance of animals’, which identified the diversity of interest in animal-connected themes illustrating their exploitation, use, interactions, literary depiction, symbolic meanings, behaviour, and the social construction of attitudes towards animals and their treatment.
presented her ‘Sexual Politics of Meat Slideshow’ with illustrations of
cultural links between the male exploitation of women and animals ( Adams 1990). Lynda
Birke presented themes from her (1994) book, Feminism, Animals and Science. Clare Palmer presented a Foucauldian
analysis of power relations in her paper, Humans,
Pets and Power (also see Alger & Alger 1999). Hilda Kean explored the social construction
of ‘Englishness’, using attitudes about animals. Allan Burns explored ‘nonhuman points of
view’. Julie Smith was interested in
theories of consciousness in the ‘literary animal’. Matthew Brower spoke about
‘capturing’ animals through ‘hunting with a camera’ in wildlife photography. Jennifer Ham investigated what she called
‘Nietzsche’s gestures of domestication and liberation’ as related to women and
animals. Sofia Akerberg and Michelle
Henning spoke about animal zoos, the concept of ‘Zoo-Nature’, animal display
and ‘ways of seeing’. Christine
Kenyon-Jones described late eighteenth-century children’s books about animals
which will be a feature of a forthcoming book, Kindred Brutes.
Peter Scheers presented a hermeneutical and phenomenological interpretation of ‘animal being’. Teresa Grant talked about ‘ape-men’ in early modern drama. Sociologist Jane Harris spoke about her social movement research on ‘animal rights’ activism; including the involvement and influence of women activists; and perceptions of gender role transgression involved in their participation in protest movements. Lesley King spoke about behavioural science’s view of nonhuman animals and asked, ‘How can we determine what an animal wants or needs?’ Such work continues to contribute to our understandings of nonhuman capabilities which, for many, are crucial in effective claims making.
In August 2001, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, meeting in California, featured a session describing and analysing ‘human and nonhuman animal communities’ including the applied use of animals, animals in popular culture, attitudes toward animals, and the history of human-nonhuman relations. This is the latest of a number of academic conferences in which work in animal studies is being discussed and explored. Furthermore, academics from several disciplines are presently taking part in regular conferences and meetings organised by animal protection organisations, which is part and parcel of the claimed growth in ‘professionalism’ within the modern animal movement (see Ryder 2000). As committed academics founded or became active and involved in radical prison reform and abolition mobilisations in the 1970’s (see Cohen & Taylor 1977), a similar process is currently occurring in the field of animal advocacy, involving a transformation from what Eyerman & Jamieson (1991: 113) call ‘intellectual-in-movement’ to ‘movement intellectual’. However, it should be noted that animal rights orientations (rather than commentaries upon it) make up only a small sector of on-going work, much of which is clearly carried out within the orthodox paradigm of animal welfarism, while conservationist themes are present, along with notions of ‘applied animal use’ which sounds quite abusive in animal rights terms.
Some recent research (such as Alger & Alger 1999, and Palmer’s Foucaldian analysis mentioned above) have sought to take existing sociological themes and methods and apply them to investigations about human-nonhuman relations. For example, the Algers explore whether the notion of symbolic interactionism can ‘go beyond’ Mead’s initial formulation. Mead himself (1962) drew a very strict division between human beings and other animals, yet Janet and Steven Alger (1999) suggest that new knowledge (Griffin 1984; 1992) about animal capabilities indicate a growing need for a reassessment of Mead’s initial formulation. Yates, Powell and Beirne (2001) placed nonhuman animals as central victims of harm within an overarching framework of an analysis of a particular moral panic. This work on so-called ‘horse-ripping’ investigated the social construction of folk devils that typically occurs during moral panics. The paper also explored the effects of a hierarchy of credibility on policing practices and motivations, and theorised the common tendency to persistently pathologise unknown perpetrators of harm, perhaps as defensive measures and distancing devices.
Much of the work cited above could well be seen to respond to Steven Seidman’s (1998) claim that sociology has sometimes had the tendency to temporarily intellectualise itself beyond firm connections with contemporary public concerns of the day (perhaps the prime example of this being Talcott Parsons’ orientation towards so-called ‘value-neutrality’ and his use of largely impenetrable scientific language). Whatever the claimed benefits of such a ‘neutral’ stance - which are likely to be mainly financial, organisational and careerist - things may be thought to go too far once students are advised against adopting a ‘political perspective’ in their sociological endeavours (see, for example, Hammersley & Atkinson 1995). If sociology cannot preserve some of its radicalism (if only as a fringe enclave), then I feel much of its future potential will be lost. This thesis reflects Seidman’s call for morally-inspired engagement, deliberately seeking involvement in a growing public and political issue, while being entirely open about its political intent as well as its frightful lack of ‘value-neutrality’.