American Sociological Association

Section on Animals and Society

Blog

Animals in Human Society: New Book Explores Human Oppression

April 22, 2017

Daniel Moorehead, Frostburg State University

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Nonhuman animals (hereafter) animals are amazing creatures. Every day it is likely one can read, see, or learn about some remarkable accomplishment an animal has engaged in. However, we must not just recognize them for what acts of bravery they may have performed, their remarkable ability to search and rescue human beings, work as service animals, care for and grieve for their own kind in the wild, we must recognize them as amazing creatures simply because who they are.

Animals have demonstrated time and time again they possess far superior skills than those of humans, but it is unlikely that our society will fully recognize these facts. For example, humans have about 5 million scent glands whereas dogs have 125 million to 300 million (depending on breed), meaning their sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000,000 times better than humans. Puppies are born deaf and usually cannot hear until they are about 21 days old. By the time their sense of hearing has developed, they can already hear 4 times the distance of a human with normal hearing. Dogs can hear higher pitched sounds and can detect a frequency range that far exceed those compared to a human. It is also known the cats can see much better at night than humans can.

Wild animals are amazing in their own right. They do what comes naturally to them. They hunt for food as a means for survival, not for pleasure. Humans invade their space by wanting to live in “nature” or among the “wild animals” and when an animal acts on instinct to protect their “own” or in search of food we blame the animal and rid “problem animals” from society by having them destroyed. Humans also have a fascination with attempting to domesticate wild animals and take them on as so called “pets,” never a good idea. Humans often seek out wild or exotic animals to become “pets,” not fully understanding the negative consequences that could transpire. Wild animals want and deserve to live in their natural habitat, humans should respect their space. It’s vital as a society to realize that we share the planet with other animals and we must learn to co-exist.

It is my belief all animals were created by God. Animals and Humans were originally created to co-exist, but man chose to disobey God and the animals continue to suffer simply because their association with humans. It is my belief that in the afterlife the “lion will lay down with the lamb,” death will be no more, all animals will co-exist as originally designed.

I cannot imagine life without animals, many hold a similar view, and therefore they need our protection. It’s time we take animal interests and needs more seriously. I often ask my students if they have ever “stood up” for something meaningful to them at the risk of ridicule or embarrassment. Surprisingly, many say they have not. Perhaps it’s time as a society generally, and educators specifically, bring animal issues to the forefront. Rescue, not consuming animals as food, and habitat loss may be a good place to begin?

The maltreatment, abuse, and neglect of innocent animals must cease. If we humans are the superior species as many would argue, why is so difficult to find alternatives for our food sources, discover new technologies to advance science without experimenting on animals, create new ways of recycling materials instead of continuing deforestation, continue to contaminate our waterways and drill for oil in protected areas where wildlife thrive?

The problem is, many people do not take animal interests or issues seriously. Much of society give no thought as to where their food (meat) comes from, how the animals suffer, and how the meat is processed. My students in “Animals in Human Society” course often say they had no idea what really goes on with the animals when it comes to food production prior to taking the course. They also comment on how “awful” other animals are treated in the name of science. One goal of my course is to present the facts, and at the conclusion, it’s really up to the students if they take what they learned and make any changes to better the lives of animals, the environment, and perhaps themselves by becoming better consumers, vegetarians, or Vegan. It’s been suggested by well-respected physicians that a plant based diet is a much heathier than an animal based. I personally feel better eating a plant based diet and sleep better knowing that no animal suffered and died to feed my appetite.

As a “civilized” society we must recognize that animals are amazing creatures that share our planet and take into consideration their needs. There needs include to be loved, live free (wild animals need to be left in the wild), not forced to satisfy the “needs” or desires of humans, not to be experimented on, not live in factory farms and fed liquid diets, and realize they deserve our respect to be the creatures they are. We must recognize the variety of situations in which animals enhance and promote human health and well-being, something humans often take for granite.

As Marc Bekoff writes in “The Animal Manifesto” (2010) “if animals can think and feel” and we know they do, what would animals “think and feel about the ways humans treat them?” (p. 8). Bekoff (2010) writes that all animals share the Earth and we must coexist; animals think and feel; animals have and deserve compassion; connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect; our world is not compassionate to animals; and acting compassionately helps all beings and our world (pp.8-9).

These ideas are not unreasonable, in fact, Bekoff suggests it’s “common sense,” I would agree.

 

Moorehead's Animals in Human Society: Amazing Creatures Who Share Our Planet (2016) is available through Rowman & Littlefield.

 

Fat Vegan Politics: Why Health-shaming, Body-policing, and Fat Stigma Hurts Humans and Other Animals

 

November 13, 2016

Corey Lee Wrenn, Monmouth University

PETA ad reads, "'I hate men's guts.' Don't be a whopper go vegetarian." Has a blond white woman in an American bikini giving a beer belly the cold shoulder

This month I published a qualitative study on fat vegan experiences in the journal of Fat Studies. Sixty-one respondents kindly gave their time to fill out a questionnaire asking a range of questions about their experiences as vegan activists. The results were surprising.

Veganism is a food-focused movement that consistently banks on fat-shaming rhetoric and ideologies of thin privilege to persuade its audience to go vegan. In a sea of fat antagonistic claimsmaking, where does this leave fat vegans? After all, veganism is not a diet and many people do not lose weight after going vegan (some may even gain). Sizeist claimsmaking not only alienates fat audiences, but could also alienate fat activists. What I found was that size discrimination was common, with one in four self-identified fat vegans having experienced it. What I also found, however, was that most were not deterred from participating. They resisted or sought out inclusive communities.

While their resistance is admirable, it should not detract from the inappropriateness of sizeism in a social justice movement. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a long history of banking on human inequalities to shock, shame, or scare its audience into compliance. It is inconsistent with movement goals and is not sustainable. Rather than burn bridges and flame bigotry, the movement might instead appeal to intersections of oppression and shared identities. Like Nonhuman Animals, the fat community has been vilified, marginalized, an exploited, their bodies otherized and butchered (with diets and surgeries). Empathy will encourage behavior change, but scientific studies reliably demonstrate that stigma will not.

 

 Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the problems of aggravating human inequality to advance anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. You can read more essays like this on my website.

 

Dr. Wrenn is the Director of Gender Studies and Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. from Colorado State University, and was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member to the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and is an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She contributes to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Disability & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory(Palgrave Macmillan 2016).


Our Children and Other Animals: New Book by Cole & Stewart

 

December 13, 2014

Matthew Cole, Open University

 

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This new book critically examines the socialization of the human domination of other animals, with a focus on the socialization sites of the family, mass media, formal education system and digital media. While the book focuses on the contemporary UK, it also attends to the historical formation of children’s relations with other animals in Britain, and to the inflection of UK popular culture by global giants in the construction of animal iconography, such as Disney and Nintendo.

A central argument of the book is that children’s ethical capacities are systematically distorted by the capitalist imperative to commodify nonhuman animals (as food, experimental tools, objects of entertainment and so on) and that an elective affinity therefore exists between the practices of commodification and the cultural products that distract children’s attention from those practices, at the same time as subtly legitimating them. The instrumentalizing imperative penetrates every aspect of the socialization process, disguised by the ‘cute’ anthropomorphic iconography of children’s culture, which can be found in food packaging, clothing, movies, magazines, teaching materials and online games that feature nonhumans as ‘pets’ or ‘farmed’ animals. This iconography paints a veneer of affectivity over human-nonhuman animal relations that allow the socialization of domination to proceed smoothly, focusing children’s affective concern for animals on fictional characters or relatively protected nonhumans, such as animal companions or members of iconic free-living species. Children’s unwitting complicity with the exploitation and violence that characterizes human uses of other animals is thereby facilitated.

The book also considers how these kinds of anthroparchal inter-species relations intersect with intra-human inequalities, especially of gender and age: ethical concern for other animals is initially encouraged in the socialization process, but is thereafter associated both with human infancy itself as an immature stage of human relationships with other animals, but also with femininity through the construction of a ‘fluffy nexus of sentimentality’ that articulates affective relations with ‘cute’ animals with girlhood. In this linking of infancy, femininity and affectivity for other animals, we argue that the seeds are sown of an anthroparchal, patriarchal and ageist adult culture’s disparagement of the animal rights and vegan movement as infantile, irrational and trivial. The book ends with a consideration of how the vegan movement is responding to the challenge of anthroparchal socialization, through the analysis of the emerging genre of vegan children’s literature. This new cultural development offers some hope that the socialization of the normality of domination can be challenged and that children’s capacities to forge ethical relations with nonhuman animals can flourish in a post-anthroparchal environment.

We hope that the book will interest critical animal studies and human-animal studies scholars across a range of disciplines, but especially within sociology. We are active members of the BSA (British Sociological Association) Animal/Human Studies Group (AHSG), regularly presenting our work at the BSA annual conference. We are pleased to report that attendance at ASHG panels and ad hoc sessions about animals are becoming better attended year on year, and we look forward to building on that momentum in 2015, when we’ll once again be panellists at the BSA conference, discussing some of the ideas from the book. One of our ambitions for the book is that it will foster connections with sociologists working in different areas of the discipline, especially childhood studies, the sociology of the family, education, popular culture as well as social theorists.

ASA members who are interested in the book can download the introduction chapter from the publisher’s website, free of charge. A podcast of us discussing the book, with fellow sociologist Dr Roger Yates, is available by clicking here.  A review by Corey Wrenn is available by clicking here.

We would be delighted to hear from any ASA members who are interested in our work and we can be contacted at: Dr Matthew Cole, The Open University, UK: m.d.d.c.cole@open.ac.uk Dr Kate Stewart, University of Nottingham, UK: kate.stewart@nottingham.ac.uk