Humans and non-human animals: different moral worlds? 
David Cockburn (University of Wales, Trinity St David)
Adrian Davis (University of Wales Trinity Saint David)
Room 4
Start time:
14 September, 2011 at 14:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel will explore whether, and to what extent, there are cogent and useful analogies to be made between the ways that humans relate to non-human animals and the prejudice, discrimination and violence that they perpetrate against one another.

Long Abstract

Developments in cognitive ethology and other disciplines have shed light on fundamental questions pertaining to animal subjectivities, human nature, and the subjugation of non-human animals. Scholars have questioned whether our culture fosters violence and prejudice against women, animals, and people of colour etc, and have argued that we must wrestle with the common roots of these falsely isolated subjugations. As we reflect on the long history of slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism, and sexual subordination, and expose the conditions of possibility for genocide and ethnic cleansing, we can question whether certain acculturated tendencies in human-animal relations are implicated in crucial ways. How might the usefulness of these analogies best be worked out? Or are such analogies fallacious and / or morally obnoxious, as other 'humanistic' critics contend?

Possible questions for contributors:

* How have social practices contributed to constructions of human and non-human subjectivity through, for instance, the spatial segregation of the natural world, the taming of nature and 'animality', and bringing animals into the home?

* As we historicise animal domestication alongside shifting ideas of human uniqueness, are there lessons to be learnt about the relevance of the human-animal binary for phenomena such as slavery, racism, and colonialism?

* How can a critical deconstruction of conventional human-animal relations draw upon lessons learnt from the study of slavery, racism, colonialism, genocide and the study social movements that have sprung up in opposition to these practices and how does this call into question our humanist and anthropocentric conceptions of subjectivity and superiority?

Accepted papers:


Louise Squire (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

Recent portrayals of animals as "free agents" in television advertising are explored as a phenomenon of new ways of conceiving animals within a world of "environmental crisis".

Paper long abstract:

Television advertisements have recently begun to portray animals in new ways. Gone are cosy images of chimpanzees playing house, wearing flat-caps and frocks, and pouring cups of tea. The animals are breaking out! Mary, the cow (Muller yoghurt), is 'set free' on a beach to fulfil her dream of becoming a horse. An elephant (LG) climbs a tree, breaking through the forest canopy to view the world from a new perspective, and a car is given magnificent new tyres (Michelin) so that it can screech to a halt and allow creatures to cross 'the sad stretch of road' unharmed. In each of these cases, the quality of agency assigned to the animals portrayed is located in the very act of portraying them as freed, in turn contesting embedded notions of animal subjectivity. This paper asks what is behind this sudden need to consent to the freedom of animals, locating it in today's world of 'environmental crisis'. Taking a post-structuralist approach based on qualitative research I argue that what is portended in this bid to situate animals as 'actors' in a world of 'environmental crisis' is a desire to rematerialise the disappearing natural world.


Melanie Long (Trinity St David.)

Paper short abstract:

Sudden eradication of most of Britain’s indigenous honey bees, due to beekeepers importing disease and parasites on ‘foreign’ bees, has left today’s beekeepers trying to redress this damage by pursuing the true ‘British Black Bee’ and eradicating all other ‘foreigners’.

Paper long abstract:

As Western preoccupation with environmental concerns become more enthusiastically and politically pursued, the 'post-colonialist' emerges and the need to 'nurture' and 'control' becomes the focus for the 'protecting' of 'original' species and 'natural' environments.

Recently British beekeepers have found their occupation fraught with uncertainty as indigenous honey bees are presented with a multitude of threats (caused primarily by humans and specifically beekeepers) to the survival of the bees within their care. They initially appear to have responded to this with some degree of panic, often exacerbated by extraneous focus upon a myriad of other possible dangers and have attempted to resolve all problems using a collection of random techniques, medications and tools, culminating in a coping strategy which flits between a fervent pursuit of scientific intervention and resignation as to 'what will 'bee', will be'. However as time has passed, and science has shown itself to be as much a problem, as a cure, the focus has shifted towards 'eradication' of the 'yellow' bee, the 'foreigner', and towards the exclusive 'breeding' of the indigenous 'British Black Bee' (referred to by Welsh informants as the 'Welsh' Black Bee). She may be more aggressive and produce less honey, but the previous opinion of production and easiness for the beekeeper being of primary importance, is beginning to give way to a combination of nationalistic pride and renewed hope which is embodied in the feisty, survivor who has been attributed with the power to overcome the obstacles which have been put before her.


Penelope Dransart (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the characterisation of moral failings in the exploitation in Tierra del Fuego of fur seals for garments against a background of historical change in which the population of local human groups was extinguished and that of sea mammals severely threatened.

Paper long abstract:

Moral choices are often made in the light of experience gained from historical precedent. As the hunting of seals changed from the self-sufficient localism practised by the Yamana and Selknam of Tierra del Fuego to the full-scale exploitation by whalers and sealers from northern countries, different moral equations pitted local humans, outsiders and non-human animals against each other. This paper addresses some of the moral implications involved in changing attitudes toward the clothing of human bodies with the fur of non-human animals in a process in which the population of local human groups was extinguished and that of sea mammals severely threatened.