Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Political Animals and Animal Politics

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Publication date  2014
ISBN  978-1-137-43461-6
Pages  xii+180
Originally published  2014
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Series  Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series
Media type  Hardback edited collection
Subjects  Political philosophy, Environmental politics, Political Science, Social philosophy, Political communication
Editors  Marcel Wissenburg, David Schlosberg
Similar  An Introduction to Animal, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of, The Case for Animal Rights, The Lives of Animals, Political Pluralism and the S

Political Animals and Animal Politics is a 2014 edited collection published by Palgrave Macmillan and edited by the green political theorists Marcel Wissenburg and David Schlosberg. The volume addresses the emergence of academic animal ethics informed by political philosophy (as opposed to moral philosophy), and was the first edited collection to be published on the topic, as well as the first book-length attempt to explore the limits of the literature. As well as a substantial introduction by the editors, it features ten sole-authored chapters split over three parts, with contributions from Wissenburg, Schlosberg, Manuel Arias-Maldonado, Chad Flanders, Christie Smith, Clemens Driessen, Simon Otjes, Kurtis Boyer, Per-Anders Svärd and Mihnea Tanasescu.


In part, Political Animals and Animal Politics arose from a workshop Wissenburg and Schlosberg organised at the 2012 European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions conference, though not all attendees contributed to the volume and not all contributors presented at the workshop. Political Animals and Animal Politics was published as part of the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series, edited by Andrew Linzey and Priscilla Cohn.

Reviewers identified the contributions from Driessen, Flanders and Boyer as of particular interest, though challenged the inclusion of chapters focussed on the environment. They also criticised the book's failure to include contributions from, or sufficiently engage with the work of, the key voices in the politically focused animal ethics literature, such as Robert Garner, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Alasdair Cochrane, Kimberly Smith or Siobhan O'Sullivan. Wissenburg's chapter was identified as the one which engaged most directly with this literature; his approach, however, was a negative one. Garner has written that Political Animals and Animal Politics should be praised for its trailblazing, but predicted that it would be superseded by stronger collections on the same theme.

Production and release

Marcel Wissenburg and David Schlosberg organised a workshop entitled "Political Animals and Animal Politics" at the 2012 European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions conference, which was held at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, between 10–15 April 2012. The two had been talking for around a year about organising a conference broadly on the theme of "nature, animals and political theory". The workshop aimed to fill a gap in the political literature on the status of nonhuman animals, something, they claimed, previously considered only at the margins of work otherwise about the environment/resource management, or else by those more primarily interested in moral issues. Both Wissenburg and Schlosberg presented papers, and, in addition, papers were presented by Manuel Arias-Maldonado (University of Granada), Susan Boonman-Berson (Wageningen University and Research Centre), Kurtis Boyer (Lund University), Clemens Driessen (Utrecht University), Chad Flanders (Saint Louis University), Robert Garner (University of Leicester), Margareta Hanes (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Paul Lucardie (University of Groningen), Christopher Neff (University of Sydney), Kaspar Ossenblok (Ghent University), Simon Otjes (Leiden University), Christie Smith (University of Exeter), Mihnea Tanasescu (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Catherine Zwetkoff (University of Liège). For Schlosberg, the workshop, and the wide range of papers presented, illustrated the "coming-of-age of animal politics as a sub field of political theory".

The workshop also featured a lecture by Michel Vandenbosch, of the Belgian organisation Global Action in the Interest of Animals. On the workshop's second day, those involved were joined by Niko Koffeman of the Dutch Party for the Animals and Karen Soeters of that party's Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation think tank. Footage from that day of the workshop, shot by Joost de Haas, was included in the documentary film De Haas in de Marathon (The Pacer in the Marathon, 2012). The film was created by de Haas, who was commissioned by the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation. It focuses on the Party for the Animals's first ten years, including interviews with people associated with the party and illustrations of the party's public reception. The film premiered on 28 October 2012, during a gathering to celebrate the party's 10th anniversary, and has since been made available in numerous languages.

Wissenburg and Schlosberg's workshop formed the basis of Political Animals and Animal Politics, a collection edited by Wissenburg and Schlosberg, with earlier versions of many of the volume's chapters having being presented at that time. Originally, the editors had intended to have discussion of political theory, of movements for animals and of real-world politics, but the final volume was somewhat more theory-based than this. Political Animals and Animal Politics was published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan in hardback format; it is part of the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series, which is edited by Andrew Linzey and Priscilla Cohn. This interdisciplinary series aims to explore the practical and conceptual challenges posed by animal ethics.

Political Animals and Animal Politics was the first edited collection devoted to the "political turn in animal ethics", and the first "book-length attempt at seeking to define the contours" of this literature. The book engages with what the editors call "animal political philosophy", which they identify as an academic literature at the meeting point of animal ethics, political philosophy and real-world but theory-driven politics. Wissenburg and Schlosberg posit that this literature, though at one time only a small part of more morally-focused animal ethics, has developed into a separate field of enquiry in its own right. They single out two key texts: Robert Garner's 2013 A Theory of Justice for Animals (Oxford University Press) and Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka's 2011 Zoopolis (Oxford University Press). Recognising the editors' identification of the political turn in animal ethics, Garner, writing with Siobhan O'Sullivan and Alasdair Cochrane, argues that the literature is both made distinct and unified by its focus on justice; contributions to this literature, these authors argue, "imagine how political institutions, structures and processes might be transformed so as to secure justice for both human and nonhuman animals. Put simply, the essential feature of the political turn is this constructive focus on justice."


Political Animals and Animal Politics has three key aims, and, correspondingly, its chapters are split into three sections. These aims are the analysis of three key "innovations" that the editors identify in the book's introduction. The first of these is the move, in animal ethics, from thinking about personal change to thinking about the implementation of rules or norms of conduct at the societal level. The second of these is a possible rapprochement between animal ethics and ecologism (environmental ethics and green political theory). The third is the increased presence of animal protection laws for the benefit of nonhuman animals themselves. Aside from the introduction, the book features ten single-authored chapters, with three in Part I: The Politicization of the Animal Advocacy Discourse, three in Part II: The Rapprochement between Animal Ethics and Ecologism, and four in Part III: The Introduction of Laws and Institutions for the Benefit of Animals.


"Rethinking the Human-Animal Divide in the Anthropocene", Manuel Arias-Maldonado

Arias-Maldonado argues that traditional appeals to the value of nonhuman animals have failed to be sufficiently motivating, and that, instead, human/nonhuman relationships are appropriately grounded upon the ideas of human exceptionalism and human domination. These notions, he claims, can be the basis of political transformation for nonhuman animals. He argues that once these ideas are properly understood, they can ground an idea of human sympathy for nonhuman animals, which is just one part of a caring and sustainable Anthropocene. Even if an alternative politics might ultimately be preferable, Arias-Maldonado argues, a change to a focus on sympathy might be useful and realistic as a political strategy.

"An Agenda for Animal Political Theory", Marcel Wissenburg

For the purposes of his contribution, Wissenburg takes many standard contentions in animal ethics for granted. However, he challenges mainstream animal ethicists' tendency to adopt the language of liberalism, which he suggests misconstrues nonhuman animals as individuals and posits false dichotomies about their status. This adoption of liberal ideas can come in Tom Regan's "old" form or Donaldson and Kymlicka's "new" form. Wissenburg challenges Donaldson and Kymlicka's extension of citizenship to nonhuman animals, and instead sketches the outline of an alternative proposal which pays attention to individual animals' modes of being. This he labels, paraphrasing Robert Nozick, "liberalism for humans and feudalism for animals".

"Public Reason and Animal Rights", Chad Flanders

Flanders argues that nonhuman animals could be "below" politics, in that they do not have politically considerable interests, or "above" politics, in that they have rights which trump political decision-making processes. Flanders argues that if animals are excluded from basic justice, as John Rawls held, they can be defended on metaphysical grounds (what Rawls refers to as on the basis of comprehensive doctrines, as opposed to the public reasons which must be used for arguments in the political realm). This is potentially liberating for animal advocates. Nonetheless, Flanders argues, animal issues may be matters of basic justice insofar as they affect humans or the animals themselves have rights. Alternatively, the wrongness of animal cruelty may be a "fixed point" in our political reasoning. Flanders concludes that Rawlsianism provides a good starting point for the inclusion of animals in political decision-making.

"Articulating Ecological Injustices of Recognition", Christie Smith

Smith argues that Val Plumwood is incorrect to declare the resituation of animals into ethical terms as supererogatory as opposed to the necessary resituation of humans into ecological terms, as the two tasks are linked. Smith rejects the culture/nature dichotomy, and suggests that a politics of recognition is an appropriate way to think about relationships. She draws upon feminist and ecofeminist literature to conceive of recognition theory beyond intersubjective self/other relations, allowing recognition beyond a human self, a concept which she challenges. Smith seeks to show that recognition theories should not be considered "soft" or "naive" as accounts of justice, and instead that they offer an appropriate mode for thinking about ecological and animal injustices.

"Ecological Justice for the Anthropocene", David Schlosberg

Schlosberg's contribution, is, in many ways, a response to challenges made to his Defining Environmental Justice (2007). Schlosberg aims to step beyond previous accounts of animal rights or environmentalism as requirements of justice by deploying a mixed capabilities/deliberation approach applicable to both ecosystems and nonhuman animals. Schlosberg challenges criticisms of his capabilities approach (specifically, a capabilities approach which moves beyond humans) grounded in the existence of conflicts of capabilities, claiming that a form of deliberative democracy can overcome the problem posed by these conflicts. His mixed account, he claims, provides a form of justice appropriate for thinking about human and nonhuman individuals and collectives in the Anthropocene.

"Animal Deliberation", Clemens Driessen

Driessen explores ways in which nonhuman animals might be understood to be engaging in political deliberation. His claim is empirical rather than normative, as he presents nonhuman animals as already being in political dialogue with humans; rather than arguing that rights should be extended to animals, he calls for a recognition of how interactions with animals have always been political. This is particularly noticeable, he argues, when humans are involved in the development of new technologies, analysing the example (following Bruno Latour) of Gaston Lagaffe building a door in dialogue with his boss and the office cat, and of farmers and cows using milking robots. He argues that a recognition of this animal deliberation can lead to more thoughtful forms of both environmentalism and democracy.

"Animal Party Politics in Parliament", Simon Otjes

Otjes's approach is more empirical than that of many contributors to Political Animals and Animal Politics. He examines the Dutch Party for the Animals (PvdD), which, in 2006, won two seats in the House of Representatives. Otjes explores whether the PvdD's presence has changed the amount of time more established parties spent on animal issues by examining both parliamentary speeches and motions before and after the introduction of the PvdD members. He finds that established parties began to talk more about animal issues in 2006, and that this could be attributed to conflict between the PvdD and the established parties. Though Otjes allows that his study's relevance may seem limited, he concludes that smaller parties can affect government agenda by remaining focused on their own primary concern.

"The Limits of Species Advocacy", Kurtis Boyer

Boyer observes the distinction between how nonhuman animals can receive political protection as individuals and as species. He argues that the latter form of protection is motivated by a desire to preserve human experience of the species rather than the experiences of the nonhuman animals themselves. Politically motivated species advocacy, Boyer argues, is highly anthropocentric, as advocates present these animals as sharing in particular revered virtues; as a result, the likes of habitat and genetic health are the focus of advocates, rather than the nonhuman animals themselves. Using the example of polar bear preservation, Boyer illustrates how species advocacy becomes tied up with broader political goals concerning humans and competing visions of the value of animals. He concludes that the advancement of species advocacy can limit the achievement of animal welfare/rights goals.

"Slaughter and Animal Welfarism in Sweden 1900–1944", Per-Anders Svärd

Svärd, taking a more empirical approach than many other contributors, explores laws surrounding animal welfare in early 20th century Sweden. He seeks to offer an empirical grounding for the argument that animal welfarism is problematic for animals, entrenching harmful use and speciesism. He analyses all official documentation from the Riksdag from 1900–1944 on the subject of animal slaughter and welfare drawing upon Foucauldian policy analysis and poststructuralist discourse analysis. He conceives of the debates as a political problematisation in which (drawing upon Lacanian psychoanalysis) animal cruelty was blamed on certain "other" groups (such as Jews and Sami). He argues that animal welfarism was not the natural continuation of an old anti-cruelty discourse, but that Sweden's 1937 regulation of slaughter and 1944 animal protection laws served to reconstitute, reaffirm and expand speciesist relations, paving the way for animal exploitation's expansion.

"The Rights of Nature: Theory and Practice", Mihnea Tanasescu

Tanasescu explores the idea of rights for nature, an idea which, though unorthodox, has seen success in implementation. He first introduces the concept, with a focus on the differences between moral and legal rights, before examining the particular case of Ecuador's entrenchment of rights for nature in its 2008 constitution, which is compared with other real-world cases. He finally addresses what can be learnt from these theoretical and practical considerations. He concludes that much work on the topic is left to be done, but the key lesson to be learnt is the significance of innovation; environmental politics, he claims, should remain both inventive and optimistic.

Academic reception

Political Animals and Animal Politics was reviewed by Garner for Environmental Values, and the philosophers Josh Milburn and Dan Hooley for the Political Studies Review and the Journal of Animal Ethics respectively. Garner lamented the absence of many of the key voices in the political theory literature on animal ethics—such as Cochrane, Donaldson and Kymlicka, O'Sullivan, Tony Milligan, Kimberly Smith or Garner himself—in the book, meaning that Political Animals and Animal Politics "takes on the role of an observer of this debate rather than directly contributing to it in a leading sense". In addition, he felt that the book offered little consideration of the details of the work of these leading theorists, identifying the absence of discussion of Cochrane's interest-based rights approach, a superficial consideration of Regan's account of animal rights, an oversimplification of his own position and a lack of context to understand the respective work of Kimberly Smith and O'Sullivan. He considered Wisseburg's chapter to be the only one which engages with the debate about the political turn in general, but notes that Wissenburg's approach is a negative one; Garner considers this unsurprising, given that Wissenburg is a green political theorist with little sympathy for "animal political theory".

Milburn questioned the success of the volume in achieving its second stated goal, concerning rapprochement between animal and environmental ethics; he considered the contributions respectively of Christie Smith, Schlosberg, and Tanasescu to be more clearly in the domain of environmental ethics than animal ethics, questioning the extent to which they belong in a volume about "animal politics". Hooley, similarly, argued that Political Animals and Animal Politics was "less of a work in the emerging field of animal politics than it is a collection of essays in the field of environmental politics". Alternatively, he claimed it could be viewed as a mixed work, noting that the contributions from Flanders, Otjes, Boyer and Svärd offered new contributions to the literature in animals and politics. Hooley thought it surprising that few authors engaged with the work of Donaldson and Kymlicka, and was critical of Wissenburg's discussion of the pair, which he claimed was "all too brief and ultimately disappointing".

Milburn felt that the opening chapters (and introduction) did well to establish the volume, and was happy with the inclusion of the more empirical contributions, given their potential theoretical significance. He picked out the chapters by Driessen, Boyer and Wissenburg respectively as highlights, suggesting that the contributions of Driessen and Boyer seemed to challenge the volume's second stated goal, and noting that, though it was strong, he disagreed with the claims of Wissenburg's chapter. Garner highlighted the contributions of Flanders and Driessen, and commended the editors for putting together the book. Hooley concluded his review by claiming that the book offered something to those interested in the place of animals in politics, but that much of its contents would be of more interest for those looking to read about environmental political theory.


Garner identified Political Animals and Animal Politics as the first edited collection devoted to the political turn in animal ethics. Though he claimed that it was likely to be superseded, he argued that Political Animals and Animal Politics should be "welcomed for its trailblazing". Subsequent collections identified in reviews of the literature in the political turn include Garner and O'Sullivan's The Political Turn in Animal Ethics and Andrew Woodhall and Gabriel Garmendia da Trindade's Ethical and Political Approaches to Nonhuman Animal Issues: Towards an Undivided Future. Another publication identified in these reviews is the open access journal Politics and Animals; this published its first issue in 2015 with an "editorial collective" consisting of Boyer, Svärd, Katherine Wayne and Guy Scotton.


Political Animals and Animal Politics Wikipedia

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