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Why are nonhuman animals victims of harm?
Why are nonhuman animals victims of harm?

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Why are nonhuman animals victims of harm?


We live in a culture that is deeply confused about other animals. Collectively, we may profess to be ‘animal lovers’ but in practice that love is reserved for a lucky few, including those we usually call ‘pets’, or is conditionally reserved for animals who perform for us on racetracks, in films or on TV. ‘Pets’ and nonhuman sporting or media celebrities are by no means safe [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  from the consequences of getting mixed up with us humans, but we deliberately kill many, many more […]

This confusion between killing and caring is so habitual, that we often fail to recognize it, even when it’s right in front of our eyes. Our love for some animals even seems to excuse us from complicity in industrialized killing: In a current KFC TV advertising campaign, pairs of friends undertake the ‘KFC Friendship Bucket Test’: one has to answer a question about their friend, and match their written answer to be rewarded with a piece of a chicken’s body in their shared KFC bucket. Here’s how it pans out between one pair of women friends:

Woman 1: ‘What would you save from a fire?’

Woman 2: (holding a placard with the word ‘Animals’ written on it): laughs.

This extract is from an article for the BSA (British Sociological Society) online magazine, Discover Society. The ‘confusion’ it highlights invites social scientific investigation, because social science has historically been preoccupied with humans, but not other animals. This course explores how that humanocentrism is challenged by the recent social science ‘animal turn’ (Peggs, 2012; Cudworth, 2011). Humanocentrism is the belief that humans are more important than other living things, including other animals. From this perspective, the importance given to other animals varies according to their perceived usefulness to humans. The animal turn means that the social sciences have begun paying increased attention to interconnections between humans and other animals. Most pertinently for criminology, this means an increased critical focus on how human-nonhuman interconnections are riven with inequalities and can produce harms.

This course explains how the animal turn directs criminological attention to nonhuman animals as victims. You will learn about social processes and structures that victimise other animals, and the perpetuation of harms through language and imagery. By the end of the course, you will have seen – and may find inspiration in – the expanding scope for criminological inquiry offered by the animal turn.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course DD311 Crime, harm and the state.