Animal Studies Bibliography

Sutherland, Anne and Jeffrey E. Nash. 1994. Animal rights as a new environmental cosmology. Qualitative Sociology 17(2): 171-186.

The Animal Rights Movement (ARM) functions as a religion or cosmology. The traditional Western cosmology is that humans have dominion over animals. ARM followers consider this notion speciesist and are generally atheist or agnostic, rejecting the religion altogether. More generally, ARM provides a cosmology that challenges the instrumental use of animals allowed by traditional Western beliefs, and this cosmology is helping to force institutional change in areas like medical research. One of the things cosmologies, usually provided by a religion, offer people is an account of their relationship to animals. In modern society, the cosmology teaches that animals are part of rational production processes; in post-modern society, however, to which we are now switching, people rarely work with animals, and the shift to fragmentation and individualized narratives and meanings means that people can interpret their relationships to animals based on emotional or symbolic connections. A religion or cosmology must also deal with certain other core issues for adherents, and the ARM addresses these as well. Cosmologies deal with bewilderment, or the question of chaos and order and the meaning of life. ARM activists ask themselves what their lives mean if they participate in causing animal suffering, and cite Ghandi's statement that the way a society treats animals is reflective of its general moral health. An example of this issue is the chaos produced by the extreme pet overpopulation and resultant large numbers of euthanasias, to which the ARM responds that there should be penalties for allowing any pet to reproduce. Second, cosmologies deal with questions of suffering. The ARM has anthropomorphic and ethnomorphic notions of suffering, meaning that it bases its understanding of animal suffering on human feelings toward events (i.e. under what circumstances, physical or emotional, humans would suffer) and on how these are understood for Americans--i.e. animals must be treated as well as Americans, not at lower standards people live under in less developed countries, etc. Animals are thus given selves. Third, cosmologies deal with good and evil. The ARM very clearly defines animals as inherently good and innocent and humans as evil for denying other species membership in our moral community and causing them to suffer. The only good humans are those who speak for animals, who cannot speak on their own behalves. Part of the reason for this belief in animal innocence is the great lack of contact with animals and the resulting lack of knowledge about actual animal behavior. Fourth, cosmologies deal with issues of justice, and for the ARM, it is right to treat animals as equal to humans and to work to eliminate cruelty and abuse (which mean different things to ARM followers than to the general population--e.g. any use of an animal in research is cruel). ARM activists feel alienated by society, which abuses animals, and try to change that. Fifth, cosmologies provide social connectedness, creating a network of like-minded people which helps people deal with their isolation from the mainstream, reinforces their beliefs, and provides group activities and emotional support. This network also offers people the chance to have their misbehavior forgiven on the basis of the cosmology. In short, while the ARM is not likely to become an institutionalized religion, is serves as a powerful cosmology for many followers whose work is forcing important changes in social institutions and our definitions of the relationship between ourselves and the environmental other and animals.



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