Monday, July 10, 2017


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.



Acknowledgements – p. 6.

i.  Introduction – p. 11.

- 21.  Animal Welfarism -
- 28.  Audience -

ii.  Theoretical Grounding and Methodology – p. 30.

- 30.  Sociology. ‘The Crisis Arrived’, or ‘After the Crisis’? –
- 35.  But…Can it be Critical and Valid? -
- 45.  Social Constructionism -
- 49.  Construction Sites -
- 53.  Claims-Making -
- 54.  Methodology -
- 58.  Language Use -

iii.  ‘Nature’ and Nonhumans and the Sociological Imagination – p. 60.

- 60.  Sociological Speciesism: The Invisibility of Nonhuman Animals -


iv.  Understanding the Social Construction of Boundaries – p. 73.

v.  ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ Categories – p. 75.

- 79.  Processes of Socialisation -
- 81.  Insiders and Outsiders -
- 87.  The Exercise of Exclusion: Moral Closure -
- 89.  Humour -
- 93.  Human Beings and Animals as Utterly Distinct Categories -

vi.  The Species Barrier - Introduction – p. 97.

- 98.  Species as a Social Construction –
- 108. Elstein’s ‘Moral Species Concept’ -
- 111.  Persons and Things -
- 122.  Moral Theory: Finished Product, or Refusal to Jump the Remaining Fence(s)? -
- 128.  Absolute and Relative Dismissers -

vii.              Human Supremacy:
Constructing the ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ Sides of The Species  Barrier – p. 134.

- 134.  Humans Atop the Scala Naturae -
- 137.  Start with God -
- 142.  Agri-Culture -
- 144.  Philosophy -
- 149.  Humanity’s Renewed Licence to Kill -

viii.  Dehumanisation: ‘Using’ The Species Barrier – p. 154.

- 159.  The Universe of Obligation -
- 161.  Process -
- 165.  Impersonal Killing -
- 168.  The Dehumanising Effect in War -
- 170.  The Meatgrinder -
- 175.  Pornography -
- 183.  In the Sexist Playground -

ix.  The Species Barrier - ‘Maintenance’ – p. 186.

- 190.  Growing Up as Animal-Harming Animal Lovers -
- 207.  Socialised Lessons About Other Animals: Welfarism All the Way -
- 208.  ‘Baa Baa Lambs, Talking Cows and Wise Old Bears’ -
- 210.  Television, Books & Games -
- 218.  Keeping the “moo” or “cluck” or “baa” away from the meat -
- 223.  Getting ‘em While They’re Young -
- 228.  Keeping ‘em When They’re Older.
- 237.  Rituals of Dominionism -
- 239.  Dominionism and Agri-Culture -
- 241.  Bullfighting -
- 243.  Rodeos -
- 245.  Hunting -
- 256.  Talking Turkey -
- 259.  Hunting in Britain -
- 265.  Gibbet Lines -
-265.  So... ‘Hunter-Gatherer’ or ‘Forager’? -
- 269.  Circus, Circus: Mastery Over the Wild World -
- 272.  Petting -
- 275.  Misothery, Pornography and Making a Few Links -


x.  The Emergence of Animal Rights into ‘the Social’ – p. 285.

xi.  Singer’s Utilitarianism or ‘New Welfarism’, Regan’s and Francione’s Animal Rights Theories, and the Philosophical Inconsistencies in the Contemporary ‘Animal Rights Movement’ – p. 290.

- 292.  The Controversial Claim of ‘New Welfarism’ –
- 299.  ‘Rights’ and ‘Animal Rights’ -
- 309.  Explaining Genuine Animal Rights is Not Animal Welfare -
- 324.  Two Recent Campaigns –
- 324.  Live Exports -
- 328.  Foxhunting -

xii.  The Strength and Resilience of the Orthodox – p. 333.

- 338.  Media Coverage -
- 343.  Pro-Use Countermovements -
- 346.  Foot and Mouth Disease -
- 353.  “Horse Ripping” -

xiii.  Reaction to ‘Animal Rights’ Advocacy – p. 358.

-  367.  More ‘Media Dancing’ -

xiv.  Avoiding Unpleasure and Evading Knowledge – p. 379.

- 385.  Humanity’s ‘Learning Curve of Indifference’, or Knowing While Not Knowing -
- 389.  Overcoming Animal Pity -
- 392.  In a State of Denial -
- 393.  Accounts, Justifications and Excuses -
- 398.  Avoiding ‘Unpleasure’ -
- 401.  Evading Knowledge -
- 404.  Nonhuman Animals -
- 407.  Devices of the Heathen -

xv.  The Development of ‘Animal Studies’ – p. 417.

xvi.  Conclusions - 427.

- 437.  Finally, Future Possibilities and Directions -

Appendices - 439.

Bibliography - 448.



                   I would like to thank the following people who have helped
                   me in many different ways in the research for and production
of this thesis (in order to avoid creating a fight - I hate violence - I have placed the names alphabetically): 

Carol Adams, Piers Beirne, Paul Bradley, Mary Brady, Brenda Clare, Kim Cook, Julie Davies, Howard Davis, Graham Day, Lee Hall, Shirley Harris, Neil James, Don  Jenkings, Miho Kaneko, Chris Kelly, Alexandra Plows, Paddy Rawlinson, David Robinson, Alex Stewart, Sharon Stewart, Merlin Tomkins, Sian Weldon, Lynne Yates, Ms. Harriet Yates, and Carole Zdesar.

I would like especially to thank Dr. Chris Powell for all the usual things one thanks a well-qualified Ph.D supervisor for – including being patient and not laughing (outloud) at my ideas.

On Language and Form

On language and form.

Sociological language is usually filled with latinised concepts and complicated sentence structures.  It is as if the use of ordinary words and sentences might decrease the trust in arguments and reasoning.  I detest that tradition.  So little of the sociology I am fond of needs technical terms and ornate sentences.  I write with my “favourite aunts” in mind, fantasy figures of ordinary people, sufficiently fond of me to give the text a try, but not to the extent of using terms and sentences made complicated to look scientific.

Nils Christie.
Crime Control As Industry 1994.

Animal Exploitation

The Visibility of Animal Exploitation.

It is simply not possible to walk down any high street without encountering evidence of instrumental and sentimental orientations toward other animals: evidence of apparent animal hating and animal loving.  Butcher shops with the freshly killed; the dismembered, on display.  During deliveries, nonhuman bodies are slung over human shoulders, from lorry to meat market door, feet kick lifeless in the air.  Gutted cadavers limply hang; smaller body parts arranged among plastic greenery and models of ‘farm animals’ made of pottery.  Outside, perhaps a jolly caricature: maybe a figure of a smiling pig, dressed-as-butcher, holding a meat cleaver.  Perhaps a laughing cow, like those on TV advertisements, welcoming customers into the meat store. 

Outside the fish and chips shop, perhaps an emblem of a happy fisherman with his arm around a large smiling fish who offers, ‘Me and Chips’.  On every main thoroughfare, one, or several, ‘McDonald’s’, ‘KFCs’ or ‘Burger Kings’.  In newsagent stores, hunting and fishing magazines, and general and specialist magazines full of advice about how to cook animal parts. 

In the majority of clothes shops, even R.S.P.C.A. charity shops, the skins of those Richard Ryder calls ‘sentients’ presented as fashionable leather items.  In every single supermarket, aisle after aisle of products containing animal ingredients: animal body parts in tins and neat packages; calf food in row after row of white bottles and cartons for a never-weaned population.  Sometimes, in a special section, nonhuman animals cut up and presented for sale under a remarkable (yet rarely remarked-upon) sign reading, ‘Freedom Foods’.  A casual walk down any street means meeting people clothed with bits and pieces of other animals: leather shoes, leather jackets, perhaps a full fur coat or, more often in recent years, fur trimmings on collars and cuffs.  Shoppers or passers-by may be attached to their animal property by leather lead or (more hip) by a rope: they may be engaged in buying meat for their animal property to eat.  A glance into the front windows of houses and flats may reveal any number of animal ‘lifers’; perhaps some are in the homes of criminologists and their students: imprisoned in cages or other forms of containers such as tanks for fishes.

Travel down any major road to encounter (if not fully register what they are) refrigerated lorries with cargoes of whole dead animals, and animals cut in half, and separated into many parts.  Every traveller is likely to pass articulated lorries, live animals this time, in ‘transporters’ on their way to or from farms or toward slaughterhouses, or animal markets and air and seaports.  A traveller may run into tractor-drawn trailers transferring sheep or ‘cattle’ from one field to another.  For, it is difficult to travel any distance without passing a field of sheep (legs of lamb, chops) or cows (sides of beef), or - far more rarely - ‘free-range’ pigs (pork shoulders, sausages) and hens (eggs, drumsticks, breasts).

Is it possible to glance at a TV or radio schedule without being immediately aware of the number of cookery programmes describing the various ways of transforming animal corpses into food items?  As well as treating other animals as if they were food, the TV schedules are filled with details of numerous wildlife documentaries about ‘wild nature’ and pets.  In recent years in Britain it has been difficult to avoid the ‘animal hospital’ shows extolling the virtues of ‘pet’ ownership.  Horse racing programmes are not hard to find; while coverage of the ‘Grand’ National and Cheltenham Festival is hard to avoid: ‘hard-hitting’ national radio news and current affairs programmes feature racing tips every morning in their ‘sport’ slots.  

Animal Exploitation: Less Visible.

It is practically impossible to travel far, certainly in Britain, without passing by largely unseen, unrecognised, low-slung, windowless structures: intensive pig-breeding and fattening units, or windowless, hanger-like, ‘broiler chicken’ sheds, or windowless ‘battery hen’ units with grain silos standing by.  Vegan and vegetarian activists are far more likely to recognise an animal agricultural ‘unit’ than would the people who actually buy its produce. 

Abattoirs are usually located in secluded places, away from main thoroughfares, or on outlying industrial estates.  Of course, not one is made of glass.  Similarly, most commuters, holidaymakers, lorry drivers and even many ‘locals’ are likely to pass by blissfully unaware that they are near now heavily-defended, security-guarded, razor-wired, vivisection laboratories. 

Any journey through countryside is as likely to pass small and medium sized woods, ‘coverts’ (pronounced ‘covers’), within which game keepers’ gibbet lines are hung and where semi-tame pheasants and partridges are purpose-bred for shooting estates and gun clubs.  Travellers are likely to innocently drive by hunting kennels or areas where hunts have set up artificial ‘earths’ to maintain foxes.  More rarely, they may unknowingly pass the secret location of illegal dog fights or badger baiting pits, and are almost certain to pass alongside scrub land and fields where official and unofficial ‘lamping’ (hunting with powerful lights) and hare coursing takes place.

Returning to shops and supermarkets consumers can find - if they read a product label or two - animal tested make-up, detergent, soap, toothpaste and every other imaginable household product.  Easily located are animal parts in the ingredients lists of all manner of products, bits and pieces of nonhumans: ‘secretions’, and so-called ‘by-products’ from the meat industry, are labelled as ‘gelatine’, ‘lactose’, ‘animal fat’, and found in several common ‘E’-numbers.


[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]

This thesis is about deliberate harm in human-nonhuman relations.  It is about the social construction of institutionalised and internalised knowledge and societal categorical attitudes about both human and nonhuman animals on interlinked macro and micro levels.  It is therefore about how human individuals, groups, and whole societies use such knowledge, social attitudes, and taught assumptions to make claims about human-nonhuman relations in a variety of social contexts. 

          The primary concern here, as a contribution to an emerging interest in the ‘sociology of human-animal relationships’ (Scarse 1998) or ‘the discipline of animal studies’ (Baker 1996), and as an example of what may be regarded as a ‘nonspeciesist[1] zemiological perspective’ (more of which below), is to provide a sociological analysis of exploitative human attitudes toward nonhuman animals in particular, and toward ‘the natural world’, or ‘nature’, in general.  It is suggested that the following pages help to reveal that the varied ways in which nonhuman animals are routinely perceived and systematically treated in modern societies are inevitably and intrinsically linked to the ways in which members of society are encouraged to view them, both instrumentally and, less obviously, sentimentally (Jasper 1999). 

          As the principal focus of this thesis is the socially-constructed nature of attitudes to human-nonhuman relations, it is about significant social claims-making that constructs important society-wide ideas about human and nonhuman beings as general categories.  Within societies in which the use and exploitation of other animals is institutionalised and overwhelmingly internalised, nonhuman animals are generally regarded as human resources; treated as if they were items of food, or experimental ‘models’, for example.  Moreover, the sentimental use of nonhuman animals as ‘family companions’ is widely accepted and encouraged, even by individuals and organisations that express concern about the human treatment of other animals.

          That nonhumans may be systematically used as human resources is an ethical issue.  The thesis investigates the particular claims-making that asserts that humans are morally justified in exploiting nonhuman animals for human (and sometimes nonhuman) ends.  Such claims have been constructed in societies that explain the justification to utilise nonhumans in terms of the moral significance of human interests and the relatively trivial regard of nonhuman interests.  Thus, in most human societies, animals other than human are regarded, in law, as human property, as ‘things’ (Francione 1995). 

          ‘Things’ are codified in law as the private property of ‘persons’, be they human beings or corporations (thus distinct from ‘people’).  In law, the interests of persons tend to systematically override the interests of ‘things’: indeed, the notion that a ‘thing’ can have any interests at all is legally problematic.  In this sense, the social construction of human-nonhuman relations creates legitimate exploiters of nonhuman property.  What this thesis sets out to do is explore how the ‘species barrier’ - understood to exist between human beings on the one hand and all other animals on the other - is culturally transmitted as morally significant.  Much to the chagrin of traditionalist opponents of most things ‘politically correct’ (such as philosopher Roger Scruton [2000]), psychologist Richard Ryder (2000) suggests that a new ‘ism’ was recognised in the 1960s and 1970s.  This is the notion of speciesism.  According to Ryder, speciesism functions in a similar manner to sexism and racism: it represents a socially constructed prejudice that may, and should, be challenged as an ethical and legal matter.  The assertion that society may be ‘speciesist’ has created new claims about right and proper relations between human beings and other animals.

          In that nonhuman animals are conventionally regarded as ‘utilisable natural resources’, the harming of their interests is socially sanctioned, and has been historically justified by means of theological, philosophical and social discourses.  A whole series of claims continue to be made suggesting that there is a ‘vast gulf’ between the moral worth of human beings and the corresponding worth of nonhuman animals.  Human beings around the globe are traditionally brought up from childhood to believe that their own species (if not ‘race’) is in various ways ‘special’.  This ‘vast gulf thesis’ is culturally transmitted within processes of socialisation and significantly, in Ryder’s terms, the vast majority of human beings are practising speciesists - and before they can be regarded as ethically aware social and moral agents.

          The sociology and social philosophy of Zygmunt Bauman (1989; 1993) suggests the devastating consequences for human beings of the routine, linguistic - and, indeed, bureaucratic - use of ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories.  Specifically in terms of the relationships between human beings and other sentient animals, the present dissertation attempts to explore connections between such relationships and these categories.  This involves gaining a clear understanding of what human beings tend to think of themselves and other animals as categories (Baker 1993); and thus, what ‘they’ have been socially constructed as.  In general, therefore, much of this work is designed to explore sociologically exactly what terms such as ‘animal’, ‘animals’, ‘beasts’ and so forth are said to mean in contemporary Western cultures; that is, in those very societies informed by centuries of philosophy and theology that frequently talks about nonhuman animals in order to speak about human ones. 

          The thesis seeks to underline, then, how constructions of human and nonhuman categories appear very important, perhaps surprisingly, even with regard to the human treatment of other human beings.  Just as the various meanings attached to ‘animal’ (etc.) may have important ideological relationships to what the category ‘human being’ means, Lynda Birke (1994) argues that how human beings understand themselves in relation to other animals matters greatly with regard to the well-being and treatment of all.  Most obviously, what human beings are socialised to think about other animals - what ‘we’ as human society say ‘we’/‘they’ categories mean in human-nonhuman relations (Adams 1990) - bears a direct experiential impact on very many hundreds of millions of nonhuman lives.  In terms of harm and harm causation toward animals, what is said about human and nonhuman classifications on all levels of social discourse is regarded as extremely important (Dunayer 2001) as, ethnomethodologically, social-construction-through-talk directly, if often subconsciously, informs generations of humans ‘the facts’ about the nonhuman world. 

Historically, linguistically and ideologically, constructed social knowledge about human beings and other animals, especially ‘knowledge’ regarding views about the ‘proper’, ‘justified’, ‘traditional’, ‘ethical’ relations between humans and nonhumans, has indeed led generation after generation to regard many (selected) nonhuman animals as if they were ‘resource items’.  These to instrumentally use as food, or as laboratory tools; at the same time (selected) nonhuman others are also regarded sentimentally as pets, while yet other nonhumans are often denounced as menacing and dangerous ‘pests’, and labelled as ‘wild’ or ‘tame’ and so on. 

          While this thesis will clearly take seriously the recently suggested connections between the harmful treatment of nonhumans and the harmful treatment of human beings, there will be little suggestion here that such links are explicitly causal, or should (or can) be located in individual pathology.  In other words, the present project is not similar to recent research (for example, Ascione 1993; 1998; 1999; Arluke et al 1999; Boat 1999) that explicitly suggests that many of those who are directly ‘cruel’ to nonhuman animals may be the most likely to subsequently act harmfully toward other humans too.  Therefore, while the link between human and nonhuman harm is explored - and suggested as ‘real’ in the current work, such a linkage will be seen abstractly, tenuously, and above all else, sociologically.  Connections are therefore to be located in institutionalised cultural forces, common societal rituals, routine social practices, and in orthodox perceptions which are widespread within animal ‘using’, animal harming, or as Ryder would have it, ‘speciesist’ societies. 

          The position adopted is based on the idea that widespread, often daily, social practices, along with foundational philosophical and ideological constructions, can ultimately engender a suggestive societal ambience which, for the vast majority of people, on some level, serves as a functional normative framework for both social attitudes and day-to-day action related to the treatment of nonhuman beings.  In general, the approach here bears a number of similarities to recent strands of feminist scholarship which has been increasingly receptive to the suggestion that multiple and ‘interlocking’ oppressions have a great deal to do with each other (see, e.g., Vance 1994).  In seeking to emphasise such linkages between different yet interwoven ‘modes of oppression’, the approach is also somewhat similar to the position of some ‘ecofeminists’ (Warren & Cheney 1991; Pincus 2001), and limited elements of the ‘feminist vegetarian critical theory’ of Carol Adams (1990; 1994).  Collectively, such writers have tended to question why theorists have been slow to recognise and acknowledge that the interwoven oppression of human beings, nonhuman animals and ‘nature’ in general could be a central and integral part of the analysis of incidence of harm. 

          Therefore, although such a perspective will likely not be generally accepted within the social sciences, or within orthodox social views about human-nonhuman and human-human relations, this work reflects recently articulated views that it is an error to regard the investigation of, and opposition to, animal abuse - Ryder’s ‘struggle against speciesism’ (2000: 1) - as something of an inconsequential side-show to ‘more important’ (meaning, of course, human) concerns.  Rather, the position adopted seeks to explore and understand a great many institutionalised and widely internalised forms of oppression, modes of violence, and incidences of abuse and harm (human, nonhuman, sexual, ethnic). 

In terms of ‘animal rights thought’, the interwoven nature of various forms of oppression was first articulated by the social reformer and ‘humanitarian’, Henry Salt (1851-1939) (Salt 1980, and see Hendrick & Hendrick 1989).  Salt argued in his ironically-titled autobiography of 1921, Seventy Years Among Savages, that violence was not a product of ‘this bloodshed’ or ‘that bloodshed’.  For Henry Salt, ‘all needless bloodshed’ must cease in the spirit of universal kinship (cited in Wynne-Tyson 1985: 301).  As shown in the latter part of this thesis, contemporary scholars are increasingly incorporating some notion of interlinked and interwoven perspective in their work on harm, abuse and suffering, for example, within the recent development of ‘zemiology’ (or ‘harmology’)[2] and in the emergence of ‘nonspeciesist approaches’ in criminology (Piers Beirne 1995, 1997, 1999; Cazaux 1999).  Indeed, given that the remit of zemiological investigation explores the idea and definition of the constituency of ‘social harm’,[3] this thesis could reasonably be described as a work of - or allied to the interests of – nonspeciesist/less-speciesist zemiology.   

          Interpretative sociological traditions most obviously associated with Max Weber recognise human beings as meaning-giving mammals (although putting an emphasis on humans-as-animals – and especially as mammals - is far from usual).  Berger and Luckmann (1966) would contend that human beings routinely cognitively construct the world.  Thus, rather than merely ‘being around’ the other animals in the world, there is a sense in which human societies create them within a complicated social framework of meaning construction.  The present work therefore examines the incidence of animal harm in, for example, the social construction of nonhumans within the category of ‘food items’. 

Of course, most if not all sociologists would agree that understanding social life means understanding its socially created character: thus it can be argued that in some senses the term ‘social construction’ may be rendered rather devoid of substantial meaning (Marshall 1994: 484), or may be viewed as a relatively trivial sociological matter (Jary and Jary 1995: 605). However, it is important to maintain an emphasis on two important factors in relation to such claims.  First, the absolute certainty that human society is creatively and actively produced by human action (given that social actors are for many socio-economic and cultural factors differently endowed with respect to notions of societal influence): however, it may be understood that society is an increasingly complex on-going human product.  Secondly, it is as equally important to constantly underscore the fact that this ‘production’ takes place minute-by-minute, often within long-sedimented and structured frameworks of power relations and social forces, regularly mediated by the erection, maintenance and utilisation of self-serving ideologies. 

          Given such factors, the relatively recent emergence of ‘animal rights’, ‘animal liberation’ and some strands of ecofeminist thought have provided a new, and fairly radical, set of claims relating to nonhuman animals (for example, nonhumans as right holding sentients with interests and preferences, moral patients, justified members of ‘the circle of compassion’ or the ‘moral in-group’,[4] and as morally valuable beings, valued independently of their utility to humanity).  Such claims critically challenge conventional and orthodox views about animals other than human.  The extent that this modern re-evaluation of human-nonhuman relations has caused a discernible degree of societal reaction - some amount of ‘social disturbance’ to conventional attitudes - is implied at least by the huge amount of press coverage of social movement activity associated with ideas such as ‘animal rights’ and ‘animal liberation’. 

          Recent years have also witnessed the emergence of several ‘pro-use countermovements’ (organised alliances in favour and defence of the human exploitation of other animals), and a growing academic interest in the emergence of animal rights thinking (Sperling 1988; Garner 1993; Guither 1988; Kean 1988 are examples of this interest).  While recognising that rights in ‘animal rights’ is commonly used rhetorically, a part of this thesis acknowledges many elements of the contemporary emergence of distinctly animal rights thinking, while also attempting to provide a sociological analysis of reaction and opposition to - and indeed the evasion of - emergent animal rights views.  This endeavour is admittedly made much more difficult by the general lack of differentiation of various ‘pro-animal’ positions and perspectives, such as ‘animal rights’, ‘animal liberation’, ‘animal welfarism’, ‘scientific anti-vivisectionism’, ‘anti-bloodsports’, ‘animal lover’ and so on.  This ‘complicating factor’ deserves careful and indeed patient analysis, and will feature in greater detail in part two of the present thesis.

          Bauman (1990) states that sociological analysis can appear to act like ‘a stranger’, effectively ‘defamiliarising’ the familiar in everyday life.  Therefore, one of the first lessons one learns when ‘doing sociology’ is that the majority of phenomena viewed sociologically are rarely what they seem to be at face value.  Such an insight also seems absolutely valid with regard to human-nonhuman relations.  Thus, for example, investigating the historical meanings attached to the term ‘animal(s)’ does undoubtedly investigate social attitudes about what modern Western humans think (and are steadfastly encouraged to think) about themselves as human beings.  According to Agnew (1998: 177-78), it has been psychologists and philosophers who have taken the most interest in animal abuse issues until very recently.  The recent sociological exploration of the subject is greatly to be welcomed for the increased interdisciplinary depth sociology brings to the analysis of human-nonhuman relations.  However, since it is quite apparent that psychology and philosophy are major influences in the construction of the various ‘meanings’ the present work seeks to investigate, psychology, social psychology and philosophy will inform the thesis throughout.  For, just as virtually no individual person could exist in total isolation, devoid of social influence, no body of knowledge with any validity can ever be free from the social (meaning the socio-political, economic and ideological) context in which it is, or has been, produced.  Therefore, there is a great deal that sociology can contribute to the study of the relationships between human beings and other animals.  As mentioned above, and will be detailed below in Chapter 15, the sociological study of these relationships and connected issues - evident in the work of zemiologists and sociologists of crime - is growing, if still limited, at the present time.

As briefly noted also, the recent social phenomenon that is ‘animal rights’ advocacy, a development which - although this can be seriously contested - is commonly traced to its origins in the 1970’s in Britain (see Garner 1993; Gold 1998; Guither 1998), has resulted in a perceivable ‘disturbance’, and even the ‘disruption’, of orthodox and somewhat hitherto ‘settled’ aspects of social life.  To the extent that this may be true, present social attitudes about the use of other animals for a variety of human ends are increasingly being rendered a little unstable by various nonhuman protection perspectives. 

          It perhaps should be immediately acknowledged at this point that, historically, many claims over many years concerning human-nonhuman relations have resulted in considerable amounts of public controversy, along with a good deal of organised social movement activity; philosophical reflection, and numerous acts of legislative action, all well before the so-called ‘re-birth’ of ‘animal rights thinking’ in the mid-1970’s (see Kean 1998).  However, as shown throughout the present work, prior to the modern emergence of distinctly animal rights thought in the 1980s, along with some animal activism in the last few years, a firmly established, seemingly widely accepted, and largely functional, normative mechanism has existed in society to cater for most aspects of human relationships with other animals.  By and large, this institutionalised mechanism has adequately ‘dealt with’ – or perhaps more accurately, smoothed over -  any emergent misgivings, qualms, and any practical or ethical ‘problems’ created by a range of traditional and routine ‘usage’ of other animals by humans for human ends.

Animal Welfarism.

This mechanism is animal welfarism and, effectively, the recent emergence of genuine and rhetorical animal rights thinking and activism has exposed traditional animal welfarism as a fairly non-radical and conventional orientation with regard to human-nonhuman relations.  Essentially, it may be claimed that orthodox animal welfarism ultimately serves to regulate and control the human use and exploitation of other animals, and rarely attempts to totally end or abolish such use and exploitation (Regan 2001).  In essence, emergent animal rights views, along with non-traditional welfarist ideas such as animal liberation have, with some degree of success, questioned the validity of the long-institutionalised conventional animal welfare paradigm. 

          Traditional animal welfare orientations toward other animals do, however, remain prevalent and hugely influential in terms of how the majority of human societies view their relations with the sentient nonhuman world.  This thesis will suggest that this situation and state of affairs can hardly be overstated.  From a critical sociological point of view, animal welfarism cannot be solely regarded as simply a set of legislative interventions enacted in Britain and elsewhere from the beginning of the nineteenth century to control, regulate and enforce the “humane use” of other animals (see Radford 1999; Francione 2000).  Orthodox animal welfarism undoubtedly performs its regulatory function: yet sociologically it appears to do far more than this.  For example, it seemingly operates as a firmly entrenched institutionalised ideology that effectively helps to normatively promote ‘kindness to animals,’ and an ethos of ‘caring’ for nonhumans, while at the same time justifying systematic and routine harmful practices – and time-honoured social attitudes - toward other animals. 

          Moreover, orthodox animal welfarism is the generally adopted societal lens through which issues of the humane treatment’ of other animals by human beings are viewed and made sense of.  As seen in subsequent sections of this document, animal welfare views are so common, and so socially sedimented and fixed, that regarding human-nonhuman relationships in any other way is most unusual, and exceptionally difficult, even for ‘pro-animal’ organisations and individual campaigners in the nonhuman protection movement.  Therefore, the ideology of traditional animal welfare, claimed in this thesis to have been successfully institutionalised and overwhelmingly internalised, has not only served to regulate the human exploitation of nonhuman animals but has also, for generation after generation, been a central support system justifying and excusing what humans have done, and still do, to nonhumans in the name of science, agriculture and entertainment. 

          Conventional animal welfarism - its very name implies as much - is generally seen in a positive light.  It is so firmly entrenched in the modern cultural imagination that it is, argues Barbara Noske (1998: 284), regarded as ‘an accepted good in Western society’.  Furthermore, reasonable animal welfare legislation and ‘good welfare practice has always been claimed, increasingly so in recent years, as the most serious concern - often the number one interest - of those who themselves wish to actively exploit nonhumans as a commercial or ‘sporting’ resource in some way or other.  In other words, it is fairly rare to find even animal ‘users’ - or the exploiters of nonhuman resources (‘animal abusers’ in animal rights discourse) - who do not regularly articulate fervent support for the concept of orthodox forms of animal welfarism (Guither 1998).  Since the emergence of animal rights philosophy represents both a fairly radical rejection of the human use of other animals (Regan 1985; 2001) and also a fundamental challenge to its regulatory mechanisms (Francione 1996), conventional animal welfarism responds ideologically to rights views with a generalised charge that the latter are unwarranted interferences, extreme opinions and, most of all, unnecessary ideas.  Orthodox animal welfarism reacts in a similar way to animal liberation.  Essentially, traditional animal welfarism suggests that any desire to go beyond its own established precepts makes no sense, and serves no positive function, even for nonhuman animals themselves. 

          As a consequence of the prevalence of orthodox animal welfarism, it is suggested in this thesis that what may be regarded as genuine animal rights thought, and even the radical ‘new welfarism’ of animal liberation, has attempted to enter a rather ‘crowded’ social space already ‘filled’ with traditional animal welfare.  Not only does traditional animal welfarism stand like a monolith to inform the vast majority of discussions about human relations with other animals, fundamental and historically sedimented social convention and routine practices also give succour to mainstream societywide views that firmly state that

(1) human beings are entirely justified by many religious and philosophical canons in their use of other animals for their own purposes and
(2) this exploitative use, precisely because it is thought to be strictly controlled and regulated, can be properly regarded as ethically acceptable since the animals so used do not actually suffer in the course of their usage.

As will be indicated during the course of this thesis, fundamental social truisms concerning human-nonhuman relationships are thought and repeatedly said to be so self-evident that the norms and values which support established mainstream views about other animals are virtually unconsciously, and certainly without controversy, transmitted on a daily basis at every level of primary, secondary and adult socialisation.  Since the ‘normal’, ‘justified’ and ‘proper’ use of other animals is a central feature of mainstream Western cultures, the apparent self-evident character, and the unequivocal ‘correctness’, of these embedded cultural attitudes means that any challenge to them can be almost automatically regarded as unneeded, beyond the pale, unreasonable, invalid, irrational and even ‘dangerous’.  Increasingly, indeed, ‘terroristic’.

          Claims from animal rights and animal liberation positions state that society is so prejudiced on the basis of species membership that, fuelled by notions of ‘human chauvinism’ (Hayward 1997), most people quite unproblematically instil speciesist ideology into children day after day through routine discourse and everyday social practices (for example, and perhaps most obviously, at every mealtime).  Similarly, speciesist sentiments are culturally transmitted in common stories told to children, and can be seen reflected beyond food choices, for example in clothing, social rituals, forms of entertainment and social gatherings.  In terms of what children learn about human orientations toward other animals, the vast majority of youngsters are effectively socialised as speciesists well before they can be regarded as ethically aware individuals.  In other words, most children are encouraged to participate in organised animal-harming activities (again, for example, at every mealtime) prior to developing the ability to morally evaluate what they are brought up to do with nonhuman property and animal produce.  Furthermore, they are routinely exposed to, and enticed to believe and accept, the justifying ideology that accompanies the human exploitation of nonhuman resources - this before they know for themselves what their own and others’ conduct entails for the lives (and, of course, the deaths) of other sentient beings.  Indeed, in effect, adults may feel a pressure to effectively mislead their own children, to put it no stronger at this point, about the starkest realities of many human-nonhuman relationships (Sapon 1998). 

          This suggests that many parents may feel the need - at the very least - to obscure many of the details (if they know them) of what happens to the animals their children consume, especially those animals consumed as if they were food.  As seen in later sections of the thesis, Robbins (1987) suggests that several commercial concerns, such as those involved in ‘animal agriculture’, are likewise engaged in such ‘protection’ of children: protection from hurtful knowledge’ that is.  After all, as Adams comments (1990), does anyone really want to know the ins and outs of what humans do to other animals when they exploit them?  A part of this thesis asks a stark question; one of potential interest to every pro-nonhuman advocate: why should anyone volunteer to know these details? 

The generally ‘hidden’ nature of much animal harm caused by human activity means that, if and when individuals come to reject some of their long-internalised orientations about human-nonhuman relations, they must perform the apparently difficult task of seriously negating some of their fundamental, hitherto stable, apparently steadfast, and solidly sedimented social norms and values (Bauman 1990; DeGrazia 1996).  Subsequently, this may perhaps require a rather difficult - and undoubtedly uncomfortable - period of ‘resocialisation’; a serious re-think about what ‘we’ humans should or should not do to nonhuman animals (Sapon 1998).  These widespread social processes are commonsensically and culturally understood, constructed and structured; and it is these processes which will particularly benefit from the scrutiny of a sociological lens.
Connections between human and nonhuman harm have been alluded to.  A feature of this thesis will investigate the degree of harmful utility provided by attitudes concerning the conception of the ‘species barrier’.  While making no claim that such a barrier has not been intelligibly identified within the social construction of species membership (Midgley 1983; Elstein 2003), the thesis outlines how ‘absolute division’ and ‘vast gulf’ views, contra Darwin, means that to label a human being an ‘animal’ is to generally confer an extremely negative classification upon any individual (Clark 1984; Birke 1994).  Sociologists have long since appreciated the important consequential effects of labelling and categorising from interactionist and phenomenological perspectives (Husserl 1931; Becker 1963).  Thus, social attitudes concerning species barriers – most obviously ‘the’ species barrier between human and nonhuman animals - have often been used to justify the most violent infliction of harm to human as well as nonhuman beings.  Pointing out the practice, and virtual tradition, of deliberately constructing their enemies as sub- or nonhuman individuals means recognising that humans can successfully ‘re-cast’ or ‘re-conceptualised’ human as well as nonhuman others as ‘killable beings’ (Bauman 1989; Tester 1997; Bourke 1999). 

          Effective and successful dehumanisation and depersonalisation processes appear to rely on factors wholly central to the present work; such as a priori social understandings that many, in fact most, animals-other-than-human occupy this category of beings who may be legitimately harmed and killed.  This is to say that there are distinct understandings which recognise that orientations toward the idea of the species barrier explicitly acknowledge that there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides to it.  Moreover, it may be categorically understood and fully appreciated that the ‘wrong’ side of the species barrier is an extraordinarily dangerous location in which to find oneself.  What is also apparently known on a commonsensical level is that the ‘wrong’ side of the species barrier is - can only be on the face of it - the nonhuman side of it.  Clearly, the ‘wrong’ side of the species barrier is a potentially lethal location for all animals - including human ones – who are, or who find themselves ideologically placed and presented as being, on that ‘far’ side of moral consideration and inclusion.  To regard human individuals or human groups as ‘killable’ (or ‘rapeable’, or ‘harmable’, or even ‘eatable’), one may apparently and effectively be able to facilitate this state of affairs if one successfully casts a person or the persons in question ‘over’ the species barrier; away from the ‘safe’ human side, and into that thoroughly dangerous and essentially nonhuman territory.

           Spector & Kitsuse (1987: 92-3) follow C. Wright Mills’ (1940) position on the role of motives, assert that claims express demands made within a moral universe: thus people do not simply say ‘stop that!’; instead, they may say something like, ‘it is not right that this is happening’.  Thus, claims-makers try to articulate their ideas on the basis of moral criteria to explain why a particular situation is wrong.  Similarly, negative reactions and responses to new ideas are often grounded in values - moral, religious, social, philosophical - which can ‘surface’ quickly when some forms of conduct or belief are questioned.  Thus, claims-making can likely create controversy, the disruption of established patterns of thought, and a feeling of discomfort - or even a degree of quite intense psychic pain – both in individuals and in collectives.  It is in such circumstances that various defence mechanisms may be required.  Taking many and complex forms, defence mechanisms involve the utilisation of complicated justifications and excuses (see Scott & Lyman 1968; Blum & McHugh 1971; Robins 1994; Cohen 2001).  In relation to the case of nonhuman animals, the present work will investigate many of these points by means of the work of philosopher Stephen Clark (1984) and his conceptualisation of several ‘devices of the heathen’. 


In the preparation of particular sections of this doctorate, a specific and largely non-academic audience is being addressed.  Thus, much of the information provided in the following pages is, with no apology, intentionally targeted in order to (hopefully) assist the cause of those involved in - specifically – genuine animal rights advocacy.  In saying this, it is openly stated that the present work is not about such advocates and campaigners, it is very much more for them.  Some theorists have suggested (see, for example, Hester & Eglin 1992, following Spector & Kitsuse 1987) that a strict distinction must be made between social and sociological problems.  The former are to be seen, sociologically, as a product of successful claims-making - or successful ‘defining’ activities.  Sociologists such as Stephen Hester and Peter Eglin argue that sociology should investigate the processes that lie behind ‘something-should-be-done-about-this’ claims, rather than trying to actually do something for those involved in constructing ‘do something’ claims.  From their early 1990’s perspective, Hester & Eglin characterise radical feminism as ‘arguably the most significant social-problem-defining movement in recent history’ (ibid.: 40).  Since then, the world has witnessed the growth of grassroots environmentalism, ‘roads protests’ and the very recent and visible emergence of anti- and counter-globalisation movements (see Barker & Tydesley 1995).  It seems reasonable to suggest that these recent concerns, along with (often interwoven with) animal rights and animal liberation advocacy, can join radical feminism as important claims-makers in contemporary history.  Thus, on one level, this thesis will simply investigate a new claims-making social phenomenon; however it is also openly designed as an overt political act (rather like much feminist theory, especially of the 1970’s ‘radical’ varieties) to actively be of use to particular social movement activists and thinkers. 

[1]  The notion of nonspeciesism may be regarded as problematic for a number of reasons.  As discussed later in the current work, the best animal advocates may hope for is a less speciesist world.
[2]   Based on the Greek word zemia meaning ‘harm’.
[3]   A zemiological conference in Devon explored such notions as part of a conceptual move to go ‘beyond criminology’ in February 1999.
[4]   These ideas are seen clearly in titles written by pro-animal rights commentators and activists.  For example, The Extended Circle (Wynne-Tyson 1990) and Animal Rights: Extending the circle of compassion (Gold 1995).


The Social Construction of Human Beings and Other Animals in Human-Nonhuman Relations. Welfarism and Rights: A Contemporary Sociologica...