The Social Construction of Human Beings and Other Animals in Human-Nonhuman Relations.
Welfarism and Rights: A Contemporary Sociological Analysis.
The Social Construction of Human Beings and Other Animals investigates dominant socially-sedimented attitudes toward human-nonhuman relations. It seeks to examine routine practices that flow from such social constructions. Human attitudes toward other animals are socially constructed, institutionalised, widely internalised, and culturally transmitted across generations. Essentially, the thesis explores many elements of the social transmission of ‘speciesism’. It is about how and why modern human societies exploit and harm other animals.
Annually, billions of other animals are deliberately bred and eaten by human beings; experimented upon in biomedical and commercial laboratories; used as items of clothing; hunted; and utilised in various forms of human entertainment, such as circuses and rodeos. The moral and ethical attitudes that justify such treatment are predicated on centuries of philosophical, theological and social thought and practice. The thesis investigates how social attitudes constrain and shape thinking about other animals. Their status as ‘sentient property’, codified into law in ‘developed’ nations, is reflected and articulated within the powerful institution of animal welfarism. It further investigates the ‘reception’ and impact of a recently emergent ‘second wave’ animal advocacy that challenges orthodox views about humans and other animals.
Morally, nonhuman animals are regarded as a great deal less important and valuable than all human beings, regardless of their respective capacities and interests of individuals concerned. This ‘lesser-than’ status has a devastating consequence that may serve to seriously harm the interests of human beings as well as (more obviously) nonhuman ones. This thesis seeks to demonstrate how ‘dehumanisation processes’ rely on a low moral regard for nonhuman life, expressed in acts of war, genocide, relations of gender and ‘race’, the commercial production of pornography, and other situations of human and nonhuman harm. Within an examination of the construction of the ‘species barrier’ and protective ‘rights’, the project also sets out to critically question whether the basic rights of many nonhuman animals can continue to be denied with any moral justification. It suggests that sociological analysis brings to issues vital understandings of the socially-constructed nature of much of what is regarded as the ‘just is’ of human-nonhuman relations; and points to its continuing usefulness in examining how societies may react to new moral ideas, often within complex systems of knowledge denial and evasion.
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