Theoretical Grounding and Methodology.


Sociology.  ‘The Crisis Arrived’, or ‘After the Crisis’?


In 1970, Alvin Gouldner warned of the coming crisis of Western sociology (Gouldner 1971).  Both Seidman (1998) and Lemert (1995) suggest that a crisis arrived within a decade of the publication of Gouldner’s book.  Both may suggest, as Lemert certainly does, that ‘crisis’ may well characterise and define sociology at the present time.  In terms of what happened to sociology, according to Seidman (1998), it found itself subject to ‘scientisation’.  For Seidman, the original moral character of sociology, although never lost completely, became overwhelmed by some other concerns of the professional social scientist.  Seidman argues that sociology may be thought to have three chief elements, philosophical, scientific, and moral.  The latter suffered, he claims, as sociologists - for apparently logical reasons in terms of requirements of ‘the discipline’ - emphasised the former.


          Seidman states that, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, ‘science became the authoritative language for speaking the truth about social realities’ (1998: 345, emphasis in original).  Thus, the claiming of ‘scientific status’ bestowed ‘public authority’ on scientists’ ideas.  In sociology, it was felt that a clear task was absolutely necessary: make the discipline ‘scientific’.  ‘Being scientific’ is the way to be heard, both professionally and politically.  Although concepts of science differ, by and large sociology became a matter of ‘producing knowledge’: knowledge ‘of the world ‘as it is’’.  The science of ‘knowledge production’ may be contrasted, in this view, to ‘subjective or ideological beliefs’ that ‘reflect a world of personal experience or particular, ethnocentric social (e.g., class or ethnic or national) interests and values’ (ibid.).  It became rather an error in the social sciences to link a ‘scientific paradigm’ to a political agenda; this goes against the grain of the unique scientific ‘culture of truth’ that developed.  In such a ‘scientised’ culture:


“Theory” becomes an “autonomous” practice; its charge is to address foundational concerns, for example, to take a position on the problem of objectivity, the relation between the individual and society, materialism and idealism, order and change, solidarity and conflict, power and meaning, and the logic of knowledge (ibid.) 



While appealing to ‘evidence’, ‘methodological procedures’, ‘‘classical’ texts’, and ‘philosophical argument’, this ‘culture of theorising has been to the exclusion of moral advocacy and political partisanship’ (ibid.)  Of course, as is the nature of such claims, none of this is true in any absolute sense.  What Seidman is essentially arguing is that the ‘moral element’ within the social sciences became de-emphasised to a greater degree than it should have.  For Seidman, sociology turned away from public life, and developed a technical language that effectively separated it from the various ‘nonacademic publics’ (ibid.: 346).


          Seidman dramatically illustrates his point by pointing out that the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting of 1989 took place in San Francisco, USA.  While 1989 was a year deeply affected by ‘the most pressing national crisis since the Vietnam war’ (ibid.: 3); that is, by the AIDS crisis, the ASA’s main theme for its conference was “Macro and Micro Relationships”:


Beyond the tragic loss of lives and the urgent public health concerns stemming from AIDS, it brought communities, ideologies, and institutions into collision.  Not only were specific populations such as gay men and ethnic minorities thrown into social upheaval, but medical, economic, and governmental institutions at the local, state, and federal levels were challenged by the AIDS epidemic.  In the midst of this social crisis, in San Francisco where the human turmoil marking AIDS was everywhere apparent, thousands of sociologists gathered.  Rather than focusing the conference on the social crisis of AIDS…sociologists marched into San Francisco to clarify the story of the micro-macro link! (ibid.: 3-4).



For Seidman, this is a sure mark of sociology being in crisis.  For Lemert, drawing on the varied perspectives of David Riesman, C. Wright Mills, Alvin Gouldner,  Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, Charlotte Gilman, and others, including the ‘classical’ writers, especially Durkheim, the sociological crisis is linked to the loss of the ‘world’ that sociology promised to explain and instruct:


By the end of the 1960s, the world was on the verge of changes in the very nature of things social.  Feminism and gay-lesbian political movements, then just emerging, would become major cultural forces in Euro-American public and intellectual life.  Marxism, then riding high, would eventually collapse as a political force and recede as an influential social theory.  The Cold War, still the major preoccupation of Western politics, would end.  Europe and the Pacific Basin, then still economically weakened by war, would rise to challenge the United States.  World Politics, then neatly organised between core and peripheral players, would become the oddly defined field of uncertain forces it is today.  State powers, then dominant in the West and expectant in Africa and Asia, would shrivel before the renewed power of ethnic loyalties and other forms of identity politics.  Technology and drugs, the oddly coupled sources of new consciousness in the sixties, would become sources of violence and deterioration in villages and cities where weapons and beepers defend and sell the drugs that kill.  World health, then considered improving and a near attainable human right, now is threatened by worldwide epidemics of violence, AIDS, starvation, and homelessness (Lemert 1995: 8).



Lemert argues that sociology ‘was founded by a generation of thinkers who cared very much for sociology (or its near equivalent, in the cases of Marx and Freud)’ (ibid.: xv).  They cared for sociology, he claims, because they cared about the world.  However, sociology seems to have misplaced this important linkage, as it also failed to concentrate on the social and moral import of social changes, such as those in the quote immediately above.  Lemert says, ‘Sociology is among those academic fields that have, in part at least, lost vital contact with their most important values, with their reason for being...the field itself has...given up its necessary relation to its only and primary natural resource: the moral concerns not just of individuals in their daily lives but of the hard-to-grasp whole of the worlds in which sociologies must today speak’ (ibid.: xiv, xv).


          Lemert looks toward a time after the crisis; he hopes the loss he speaks of will be temporary: but he has doubts about this.  What, he wonders, if crisis is all that sociology is?  However, he remains bravely optimistic and says that, in the recent work of Robert Bellah (et al), Steven Seidman, Richard Flacks, Patricia Hill Collins, Judith Stacey, Alan Wolfe, and Dorothy Smith, the sociological imagination, the prerequisite of ‘a good enough sociology’, is rekindled: ‘Among many others, [these theorists] are encouraging…the first steps in the deep, patient reworking of the moral basis of sociology itself’ (ibid.: xv).


It is in the spirit of the tradition began by Mills at the end of the 1950s (if not earlier by Riesman, at the beginning of the 1950s, in The Lonely Crowd [ibid.: 2]) that this thesis is cast.  The thesis, furthermore, hopes to offer support toward an active moral re-engagement suggested by Seidman and the other writers named above.  However, it also presumes to attempt to challenge speciesism found in all that has gone before, including the recent work by writers seeking to firmly re-establish the moral basis of sociology.  And all that reaffirms Seidman’s claim that engagement in public life should be the chief and not secondary motivational drive of any social science.  In The Culture Of Narcissism, Lasch (1991 [1980]) talks of an ‘easygoing oppression’.  To date, sociology - disappointingly following society – has displayed an easygoing speciesism which this thesis will seek to challenge.  For example, when Seidman attacks the American Sociological Association for its micro-macro concerns as the AIDS epidemic raged outside its doors in San Francisco, he states with some anger that, by 1989, ‘the AIDS crisis had already taken tens of thousands of lives’ (Seidman 1998: 3).  However, it may be confidently assumed that Seidman is talking exclusively about lost human lives here; human victims of AIDS.  He is almost certainly not including the number of nonhuman lives taken, and continue to be taken, as if they are ‘scientific models’ in AIDS and ‘simian AIDS’ vivisection experiments in which they are viewed as human resources. 




Seidman’s (1998) advocacy of ‘morally-engaged’ and ‘politically-motivated’ sociology can and must be defended, lest the discipline remains drowned in a (main)stream of careerist sociologists who may see little else than their next wage cheque.  Seidman’s charge that sociology experienced a process of ‘scientisation’ has resulted, he claims, in many refusing to see the role of the sociologist as that of ‘storytelling social critic’ (a phrase reflecting both the limitation and the potential of sociology), or as a ‘public educator’, actively engaged in the social and political issues of the day.  Maria Mies (1983) argues that so-called ‘value-free research’ can and should be replaced by what she called ‘conscious partiality’; in distinct opposition to the notion of ‘spectator knowledge’, which she sees as being based on the blasé observations of ‘disinterested’, ‘indifferent’ and ‘alienated’ researchers. 


Mies also rejects all research which offers a ‘view from the top’ (and see Layder’s [1994: 13-33] discussion of the ‘view from on high’).  She strongly favours the ‘view from below’ with a commitment toward using research to further the interests of dominated, oppressed and exploited groups.  This is the advocacy of a running, jumping, climbing trees type of research.  In this view, research is regarded as integral to the aims of ‘liberation movements’, with no value given to academic ‘ivory tower’ gazing.  This particular work - predictably - is bound to be adverse to the ivory tower! 


Following the likes of C. Wright Mills, Alvin Gouldner, Steven Seidman, Steve Best, Rik Scarce and Charles Lemert, the interest here is closely linked to struggle and positive action for change, toward a general reduction in deliberate harm-causing.



But…Can it be Critical and Valid?



This is the central question addressed by David Wainwright (1997) in relation to qualitative sociological research.  As such, Wainwright discusses an almost traditional question fired at sociologists over many years: how scientifically valid is sociology?  Of course, this is a regularly debated and hugely contested question, sometimes regarded as part of an even ‘bigger’ question, such as: how scientific is science?  Indeed, what is this ‘thing’ called science? (Chalmers 1982).


          This thesis cannot attempt to but scratch the surface of such issues, although it can point toward a selection of the wealth of writing on such issues (e.g., Bauman & May 2001; Callinicos 1999; Delanty 1997; Keat & Urry 1982; May 1997).  Since this thesis is claimed to be orientated toward the ‘critical’ and qualitative ‘camps’ within the social sciences, and since critical perspectives and qualitative methodology have been regularly opened up to accusations of methodological and scientific unreliability and invalidity, a few words to address such issues are in order at this point. 


          Wainwright’s (1997) discussion appears valuable here and, although his concentration is on the sociology of health, there appears no reason not to regard his claims relevant to other dimensions of sociological inquiry.  For example, setting the scene, Wainwright argues that, ‘Qualitative methods of inquiry have often been viewed with ambivalence and a degree of trepidation’.  He states that ‘such methods offer an important link to some of the main concerns of sociological thought, addressing questions of power, ideology and subjective meaning’.  However, ‘they may be viewed as suspect in terms of their validity and reliability, particularly when compared with the more ‘scientific’ methods available to the quantitative researcher’ (ibid.)


          While it has been often assumed, Wainwright goes on, that qualitative research can be valid, and can be critical, it has been argued that it cannot be both at the same time.  Having said that, he says he has noticed in recent years that qualitative researchers have tended to ‘acquire a new respectability’ but at a fairly high cost: ‘most notably, it has entailed, if not a complete capitulation to quantitative criteria of validity and reliability, at least a tendency to meet them half-way’.  In other words, Wainwright discerns a move toward ‘transforming qualitative research into another weapon in the positivist arsenal’ which can ‘rob the approach of its critical potential’ (ibid.) To the extent that Wainwright’s perspective can be regarded as itself accurate and valid, it does underline Seidman’s (1998) claim about the ‘scientisation’ of the social sciences.  Further movement away from sociology’s moral core toward ‘scientific credibility’ would disappoint Seidman greatly.  The result of the ‘compromise’ Wainwright (1997) identifies has ‘weakened the link between the technical process of ethnographic data collection and its basis in sociological theory’, even if, in the eyes of some others, the status and acceptability of qualitative research has thus been increased (ibid.) Not only does Wainwright claim this compromise carries a high cost, he also says it is ultimately unnecessary.  He firmly argues that such research can remain critical and valid within its own terms and without attempting to accord with ‘the narrow constraints of positivism’ (ibid.)


          Wainwright claims that, despite difficulties, there can be a ‘synthesis of the insights that traditional ethnography’, providing the subjective experience of everyday life, along with ‘the historical and structural insights offered by social critique’ (ibid.)  A problem may arise, Wainwright accepts, because such a synthesis ‘entails combining two quite separate and possibly incompatible formulations of validity’:


The possibility always remains that the analysis will slide into either a top-down deductive approach in which a pre-existing theory is simply legitimated by the selective and biased use of ethnographic data, or else into a superficial and particularistic account of the views of respondents.  Giving explanatory primacy to the testimony of informants would appear to undermine the validity of social critique by contravening the injunction to always look beneath the surface of everyday appearances; whilst a broader historical and structural analysis might contradict the traditional ethnographer's claim that valid research does not impose a priori theoretical constructs (ibid.)



Wainwright’s ‘solution’ to all this ‘lies in ensuring that the analysis is informed by both strands of inquiry’.  He insists that ‘issues emerging from participant observation or ethnographic data can be placed in an historical and structural context, and that problems identified in the academic literature can influence the direction of the ethnographic study’ (ibid.)  Wainwright argues for a critical ethnography involving a reflexive and constant ‘interweaving of inductive and deductive logic’.  Moreover:


The researcher does not set out to test a pre-conceived hypothesis, nor is an entirely open-ended approach adopted, instead the researcher begins by observing the field of study, both as a participant observer and as a reviewer of academic literature.  From the synthesis of these sources a research agenda emerges that can be pursued, again, by a mixture of observation and theoretical work (ibid.)



Given this potentially ‘unstable dialectical relationship between ethnographic observation and social critique’, Wainwright says it is of particular importance ‘to re-conceptualise validity in terms of reflexive practice’.  Agreeing with Hammersley and Atkinson’s (1983) definition of reflexivity – that is, the researcher’s conscious self-understanding of the research process - Wainwright promotes a dynamic sceptical orientation toward both researcher and researched.  Thus, the key is to constantly ask, ‘Are they telling me what I want to hear?’ and, ‘Am I seeing what I want to see?’ (Wainwright 1997).


Wainwright claims that, ‘the purpose of reflexivity is not to produce an objective or value-free account of the phenomenon’ and furthermore, ‘reflexivity is not primarily a means of demonstrating the validity of research to an audience, but rather a personal strategy by which the researcher can manage the analytical oscillation between observation and theory in a way which is valid to him or herself’ (ibid.)  Noting that his strategy will be ‘anathema’ to the positivist, Wainwright nevertheless asks whether is it ‘really so different to the process of establishing validity in quantitative research?’ 


Random sampling and statistical testing may appear to make the assessment of validity transparent to a third party, but such techniques are not immune to manipulation by an unscrupulous researcher. In fact, the validity of particular research findings, be they qualitative or quantitative, ultimately depends upon trust in the researcher’s integrity, at least until the research is replicated.  Validity therefore refers to the techniques employed by the researcher to indulge a Socratic distaste for self-deception, and in critical ethnography this is achieved by reflexivity (ibid, emphasis added.)



Researchers’ commitments to this ‘reflexive management of the research process in the pursuit of validity’ must be expressed and applied to each and every stage of the research process, Wainwright insists, ‘from establishing relations in the field to writing up the conclusions’ (ibid.)


          Wainwright states that at every stage validity depends, ‘for the critical ethnographer,…upon getting beneath the surface appearances of everyday life to reveal the extent to which they are constituted by ideology or discourse’.  Rather than attempting to adopt an ‘empty head’ approach, ‘the critical ethnographer is pre-armed with insights gleaned from social critique’ (ibid.)


Following Harvey (1990), Wainwright agrees that critical ethnography differs from traditional forms of qualitative data analysis, ‘by bringing the broader critique of social relations to bear on the structuring of analytical themes’.  When this is the case, ‘the final analysis is not derived exclusively from the ethnographic data but from an oscillation between that and the social critique’ (Wainwright 1997).  Wainwright also cites Sue Jones’ (1985) perspective on the understandings of researcher and respondent which appears particularly relevant and important in relation to the present thesis.  Jones argues that a researcher may sometimes require to ‘go beyond’ the concepts and understanding of her respondents.  This is valid for Jones so long as it is clearly stated that this is what is happening.  For example, she says that a researcher may ‘set’ their understanding next to respondents’ ‘concrete’ ideas and definitions.  This process may produce valuable ‘second level’ meanings, however, such meaning must also remain linked to the constructions provided by the research respondents.


When Wainwright turns his attention toward ‘writing up’ within the research process, again, his position on the issue bears particular relevance to the current work.  He claims that issues relating to writing up are commonly neglected in analyses of sociological research. Wainwright initially follows Hammersley and Atkinson’s (1983) claim that ‘writing up is inevitably a part of the analytical process, suggesting that the structure of the report influences the type of analysis, or at least the way it is understood by the reader’ (Wainwright 1997).  He also accepts Hammersley and Atkinson’s ‘four types of report’:



the ‘natural history’ (in which the report reflects the different stages of the research process as they progressed over time), the ‘chronology’ (also temporally organised, but reflecting the development or 'career' of the phenomenon being studied, rather than the research process), ‘narrowing and expanding the focus’ (in which the analysis moves backwards and forwards between specific observation and consideration of broader structural issues), and ‘separating narration and analysis’ (in which the ethnographic data are presented first before theoretical issues are addressed) (ibid.)



Wainwright says the ‘natural history approach’ is the most often used, however, ‘it does not fit well with qualitative research’.  More than that, ‘it can lead to a form of dishonesty, giving the impression that the research followed a tight structure of background reading, hypothesis construction, research design, data collection and analysis, and discussion of results’ (ibid.)  Wainwright states that ‘the qualitative research process is less well ordered’.  While it is true that background reading is involved and is essential:


which texts are relevant, and therefore, worth including in a report or publication, only becomes apparent towards the end of the research process, and the literature review should continue throughout the project as the ethnography raises new themes for analysis.  Similarly…the sequence of hypothesis - data collection - analysis, is not clear cut or linear, but an ongoing and dialectical process (ibid.)




Wainwright suggests that the other three formats for writing-up are ‘more relevant’, but that they ‘should be seen as different aspects of the process, rather than discrete types’.  He says that, ‘Whilst the organisation of a report or publication cannot in itself confer validity, it can make the research process more transparent to the reader and allow validity to be more clearly assessed’.  What is important, Wainwright insists, is ‘to use the report format to illustrate the oscillation between micro and macro analysis that comes from combining the methodologies of ethnography and critical social research’.  What this involves, is ‘looking in detail at the informants’ testimony, but broadening this out to a consideration of structural and historical issues’ (ibid.)  Even given that Wainwright may be concentrating on ‘conventional’ ethnographic methodology, the points he makes appear equally valid in cases, such as the current thesis, in which the ‘testimony of informants’ comes often from secondary sources such as books and newspaper cuttings.  Equally useful are Wainwright’s comments about the issue of ‘generalisability’.  While in a quantitative study generalisability is largely determined by random sampling and statistical inference, Wainwright notes that ‘such techniques are not usually relevant to qualitative research’.  This may seem to make generalisation more of a problem in the latter case.  However, a critical ethnographer is much less likely to claim that results can or ought to be widely generalised in the first place:


          In many respects, the way in which generalisation is conceptualised in        quantitative studies is alien to both ethnography and critical social research.  For the ethnographer what matters most is gaining an in-depth understanding of the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of the people s/he studies; the assumption is that this worldview will be context specific, and that generalisation to others will therefore be extremely limited (ibid, emphasis added.) 




Moreover, the:



          critical social research starts from the assumption that society is in a constant state of flux, that the social world and our understanding of it are constantly changing, again limiting the value of generalisation (ibid.)



The present work, very much in line with this reasoning, is to be described as a context-bound ‘snapshot account’ of human-nonhuman relations, although Wainwright claims that findings from such work may be generalised to some degree.  For example, he writes: ‘although ethnography and critical research may question positivist/quantitative assumptions about generalisability, both approaches aim to produce findings that have relevance beyond the immediate context of the study’. Furthermore, although the production of ‘laws of behaviour’ is avoided, there nevertheless ‘remains an often almost hidden claim that the behaviour found in the study will shed some light on the behaviour of others, even if this explanatory range is limited in time and space’ (ibid.)


Following the 1993 work of Janet Ward-Schofield on the philosophy of social science research, Wainwright appears to accept that ‘a re-conceptualisation of generalisability’ may also be in order.  Perhaps, rather than the conventionally defined notion of ‘generalisability’, terms such as ‘fittingness’, ‘comparability’, or ‘translatability’, better ‘reflect the process of detailed description of the content and context of a study, so that it can be generalised to examples that match it closely’ (ibid.)  Wainwright argues that, ‘Conceptualising a phenomenon in terms of its conditions of existence and the social relations that characterise it, is a sounder basis for generalisation than the simple description of immediate appearances’. 


          This is exactly the aim of the present work; an attempt to understand contemporary articulations of attitudes toward nonhuman animals within wider contexts provided by philosophical tradition, everyday convention and practice, cultural transmission, politics, economics, and so on.



Wainwright claims that qualitative researchers should resist ‘the bogus belief’ that ‘positivist criteria of validity confer a degree of authenticity upon research findings that is immediately transparent to a third party’.  Furthermore, he again reminds his readers that, ‘even the powerful tests of validity which are available to the quantitative researcher, such as random sampling or statistical inference, are not immune to manipulation by disreputable researchers’.  He concludes that:


Rather than a clearly discernible hallmark of authenticity, the techniques employed in the pursuit of validity comprise a means by which the researcher can minimise the risk of self-deception.  Whilst these techniques can be reported, their acceptance by a third party must ultimately entail a degree of trust in the diligence and integrity of the researcher.  This does not mean that all research findings should be blindly accepted at face value; the onus is always on the researcher to persuade his or her audience that the research findings are valid.  The appropriate perspective for the reader of research should be, to borrow from Antonio Gramsci, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’, and this applies equally to quantitative and qualitative research (ibid.)



Wainwright correctly states that the aim of the qualitative researcher is not to ‘produce a representative and unbiased measurement of the views of a population, but to deepen his or her understanding of a social phenomenon by conducting an in-depth and sensitive analysis of the articulated consciousness of actors involved in that phenomenon’ (ibid.)  Wainwright maintains that he can stand for ‘a re-conceptualisation of rigour and validity in qualitative research’ which rejects positivist criteria, ‘in favour of the insights offered by social critique. From this perspective validity can be re-couched in terms of reflexively managing the relationship between the testimony of informants and a broader process of structural and historical analysis’ (ibid.)


However, he is keen to re-emphasise that this engages analysts with ‘an uneasy and in some senses contradictory combination’ requiring ‘careful management at each stage of the research process’.  However, and finally, he argues that, it:


does provide an opportunity to get beneath the surface of everyday appearances, to produce theoretically informed accounts of social phenomena that are grounded in people’s experience of everyday life, but which take a critical approach to the categories and forms through which everyday life is experienced (ibid.)



Social Constructionism.



This thesis is a sociological analysis of what Richard Ryder (2000) and Tom Regan (2001) have called a ‘battle of ideas’ about issues arising from considerations of human-nonhuman relations: and this ‘battle’ does indeed shape and inform the categories and forms through which mundane understandings about human-nonhuman relations are forged.  Within a social constructionist (or ‘social contructivist’) framework, based on Berger and Luckmann’s (1966) original vision, (but also informed and inspired by the tradition of ‘critical’ sociology that can be traced to the work of C. Wright Mills), this work is largely about conflicting social claims-making; the societal reaction to challenging social claims; and the disharmony and resolutions which may or may not emerge when various social claims are publicly expressed.  In Joel Best’s view (1995: 348-49), the general framework adopted as a central approach within the thesis provides the basis for a critical analysis of claims, various claims-makers and often complex claims-making processes


According to Miller and Holstein (1993: 11), Best and others would claim that the central approach adopted may be correctly called ‘contextual constructionism’, especially because such a perspective does not refuse ‘to evaluate the accuracy of claims-makers’ claims’, something the ‘strict-strong’ social constructionist formulation (see immediately below) is disinclined to do.  Miller and Holstein note that contextual constructionists attempt to ‘contribute to public and academic debates about social problems’ (ibid), something that Mills (1967), Christie (1997), Seidman (1998), and others who regard the job of sociologists to engage in the conflicts and political and moral issues of the day would enthusiastically applaud. 


          While the analytical approach employed in the following pages is modelled on Berger and Luckmann’s original perspective (1966), it also engages Rik Scarce’s ‘development’ of the classical constructionist approach through which Scarce seeks to ‘bridge the literatures on environmental sociology and the sociology of human-animal relationships’ (Scarce 1998). Scarce’s project involves theoretically understanding the social construction of both a single animal species and ‘nature’ as a general category.  There has also been some further recent work in this general area of interest.  For example, Lyle Munro’s (1998) account notes that a social constructionist stance and orientation has been employed in the study of both ‘animal rights’ and environmentalist claims about ‘defending the natural world’ (see Yearly 1992; Hannigan 1995; Henkle 1995; Munro 1998). 


          In that the present approach most closely follows the ‘contextual’ form of constructionism (Miller & Holstein 1993), it is, as indicated, somewhat distinct from the so-called ‘strict’ (Spector & Kitsuse 1987; Kitsuse & Schneider 1989) or ‘strong program’ constructivism frequently employed in studies of the social construction of science and technology.[1]  Without going into all the finer details of the ontological and philosophical differences between various strands of social constructionism (see Best 1995; and Scarce 1998 for this), there is here an overall agreement with Berger and Luckmann that research should focus on the social processes that give meaning(s) to what is seen as material reality, and yet ‘contextual constructionist analyses turn on distinguishing between “warranted” and “unwarranted” social problem claims, a distinction that implicitly involves treating some putative conditions as “real” social problems’ (Miller & Holstein 1993: 12).


This is largely what makes Berger and Luckmann’s approach a sociology of knowledge that encourages researchers to consider the historical context of their subject as well as appreciating ‘both interactional and macro-level forces as they examine the emergence and maintenance of meaning’ (Scarce 1998).  However, also avoiding what Scarce characterises as a ‘serious shortcoming’ in both ‘classical’ and ‘strong program’ constructivism and engaging a necessary ‘critical’ element to the analysis, the present thesis will attempt to incorporate into its approach the important role played by powerful social institutions in shaping and often systematically reinforcing constructions of the social world.  This is exactly what Scarce himself did in his own investigation of the social construction of salmon (ibid).


          As a construction in itself, there will not, and should not, be any absolute assertion nor pretence that this thesis represents anything like ‘the truth’ about the rich complexities of social attitudes about the human use and/or abuse of other animals, as ‘food animals’ or as laboratory ‘tools’, for example.  Rather, this is undoubtedly more of a British Westerner’s snapshot account, a historically and geographically located picture of important social processes; one which attempts to recognise that what is taken as fact in society is often relative: that social contexts and societal systems create social facts.  By such means, social circumstances and long-standing ideological traditions serve to shape what is ostensibly ‘known’ about social and political issues.  Moreover, such circumstances necessarily involve micro-level interactions and the effect of institutionalised social forces, including national and transnational political and macroeconomic systems.  ‘Facts’ obviously also change over time - what are recognise as ‘facts’ change - due to what may be regarded as ‘new facts’, or through technological change and/or novel developments in ways of looking at the social world.  ‘Facts’, and their moral implications, about the capabilities and abilities of non-human animals change on a regular basis as discovery claims are made, countered and evaluated and remade anew.  As Clark (1990: 16) points out, ‘Increased understanding of what “animals” are like, how closely related to “us” they are and how poorly they have been served by moralists, may lead to an extension [of animals’ rights]’.[2]  Animal rights theorist Gary Francione is clear on this matter (1996a; 1996b), arguing that it is morally relevant to know what ‘sorts of beings’ are under discussion.


          In relation to knowledge creation and awareness, Scarce cites Newman (1995) who argues that there are no objective social facts in a universal sense.  Instead, lacking universals, ‘facts’ are a creation of particular social milieus at certain historical moments.  Nevertheless, there are ideological and economic interests in play which often attempt to resist, block or delay change; while maintaining and preserving ‘facts as they are’ in social processes of reification.  The present work illustrates this in an examination of ‘countermovement’ mobilisation to pro-animal advocacy. 


As a contribution to the sociology of knowledge, the aim of the present work is to attempt to identify the historical, micro and macro-level social forces and processes that inform attitudes about human-nonhuman relations – this within constructivism’s stress on the emergence and the ‘maintenance’ of meaning.  Thus, the intention throughout the thesis will be to make evident and emphasise that claims are inevitably mediated by power relations.  Such mediation may serve to make some claims appear superior to others as ‘world views’ of social phenomena are put forward, challenged and are contested (see also Craib’s [1984: 171-81] account of Georg Lukacs’ position that forms of knowledge ought to go beyond ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ distinctions because new knowledge [and historical context] calls for an orientation towards knowledge revision and refinement).


          While the thesis may be labelled a critical social constructionist and a nonspeciesist zemiological approach, the rich tradition of ‘radical’ or ‘critical’ theorising, from Mills (1967), through the Frankfurt School (1973) and Nicholas (1972), to Lemert (1995), Seidman (1998) and Bauman (1989; 1993), each in their own way strong advocates of morally-engaged academic study, is drawn on as its central theoretical orientation.



Construction Sites.



In his study of the social construction of salmon, Scarce (1998) makes an important distinction between ‘cognitive’ constructions and those he labels ‘physical’ and/or ‘behavioural’.  Cognitive constructions are those that ‘reveal meanings ensconced in attitudes, values, and beliefs; they are found in texts and discourse’.  It may seem that the most obvious way of thinking about social constructions is that they end up ‘residing’ in individual and the collective heads of human populations. 


However, physical and behavioural constructions, the latter type identified by Scarce, and which are not written down or spoken, represent different sources of meaning(s), he claims.  These sources are found in society’s technologies (for example, he names dams, fish hatcheries and fishing gear in relation to the case of salmon) and in social rituals, ceremonies and daily interactions.  As with many sociological concepts, these constructions may only be separated analytically: in the ‘real world’ they are, as is usually the case, intrinsically interwoven and interdependent.  It may be appreciated, then, that a continuous multilevel-process-of-meaning-production exists throughout micro and macro settings and which, as Scarce emphasises, are inevitably affected by economic and political forces.


          This detailed complexity is revealed in the following pages with regard to the construction of human-nonhuman relations.  For example, some scientific anti-vivisectionist and ‘animal rights’ claims are about objections to various experimental procedures conducted on nonhuman animals.  Discourse about the issue of animal experimentation reflect and illustrate the various ‘levels’ of meaning construction that Scarce identifies.  For example, during claims and counterclaims about what beings should be regarded as rightholders, or during more welfarist claims-making about nonhuman pain and suffering (or the lack of it), or the medical or commercial benefits (or lack of them) of testing medicines and products on nonhumans, the social construction of meanings about notions such as ‘science’, ‘scientific’, ‘laboratories’, ‘necessary medical advancement’, ‘career’ and ‘researcher’ play important cognitive and meaning-filled roles for different participants, be they experimenters, ex-vivisectionists, various types of nonhuman advocates, government ministers, sufferers of possibly incurable illnesses, supporters of ‘alternative medicine’, specialist and non-specialist journalists, academic commentators, and so on. 


          Ideas and attitudes about such categories and social identities, and ideas directly or indirectly related to, or ostensibly entirely separate from, what is overtly said about the use of animals in vivisection procedures; or even ideas connected to what ‘the law’ might say on the subject; along with perceived economic factors, may be endlessly fed into debates about the rights and wrongs of this distinct and controversial form of ‘animal use’.  Thus, any ‘battle of ideas’ on this issue inevitably involves a multi-agency struggle involving a multiplicity of meaning-filled images and social psychologically-attuned notions derived from a myriad of diverse sources such as - in this example - the experience of medical treatment, education specialisation, mass media coverage, picking up a scientific anti-vivisection or other animal advocacy leaflet (or even watching a ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ film). 


In the battle of ideas about vivisection as medical science, animal experimentation may be characterised as an essential contribution to human health on the one hand, or as a scientifically invalid instance of animal torture, on the other.  Less frequently, it may be principally described as a gross violation of nonhuman rights.  For, quite apart from the reliability of animal experimentation as a methodology, a genuine animal rights approach would also have a great deal to say about the morality of the practice of experimenting on non-consenting sentient individuals.  What seemingly needs to be borne in mind is an awareness that all, or at least many, participants and observers of such debates may have a whole set of cognitive and physical/behavioural level constructions, possibly firmly sedimented in their thinking and behaviour - and based on various types of ‘evidence’ and, for them, established ‘social facts’ - which appear to act as a complex and important set of lens and resources through which claims will be evaluated, judged, welcomed, rejected and/or evaded.  Any genuine understanding of, say, the publicly-sanctioned or publicly-opposed practice of using nonhuman animals in experimental procedures must seemingly go beyond necessarily regarding animal experimenters as ‘evil’, ‘sadistic’, or unusually ‘cruel’ individuals, just as any crude characterisation of the ‘anti-vivisectionist’ or ‘animal rightist’ as ‘being against’ scientific research or ‘misanthropic’ may be well wide of the mark.  Since the 1960s and 1970s, social movement theory has tended to move away from early and largely inadequate notions that individual pathology can explain participation in a protest movement or campaign and instead look toward the existence of genuine grievances or important social issues that explain involvement. 


In the light of such factors, understanding any individual’s involvement in practices that cause direct harm to other animals, or those that organise in opposition, requires a concentrated recognition that complex micro-interactions and macro-forces can sustain and influence such practices and the attitudes that can justify and explain or excuse them.






Clearly, claims-making activities occur in situations of social interaction (Spector & Kitsuse 1987: 79).  Claims can only be made in a social context and, likewise, claims are socially acknowledged as claims in their social contexts.  However, adding to the complexities involved, Spector and Kitsuse point out that some events not actually intended as claims can sometimes nevertheless be received as such, while deliberate and purposeful claims-making may be engaged with, or ignored, seen as appropriate or inappropriate claims, viewed as a serious contribution to a given issue or an example of insanity (see ibid.: 79-81; Best 1995).  Recent ‘second-wave’ (meaning post-1970) nonhuman animal campaigns can be recognised as claims-making that has been responded to in all the ways just mentioned above and more.  A part of this thesis aims to investigate the struggle to make ‘animal rights’ claims theoretically distinct - and heard within the ‘social arena’ (Squires 1990). 


The research direction, as indicated, is to investigate the construction of ‘animal rights’ claims, but a main focus will be on the societal reaction to them.  Additionally, within a concentration on reactions to views that are distinctly animal rightist in orientation, the intention is to focus directly on socially-constructed views and institutionalised and internalised attitudes about humans and other animals that serve to inform such reactions.  A tendency of academic studies of claims-making is a focus on the personalities and social characteristics of participants who are involved in making claims.  There is a long tradition of this approach (see Hoffer 1951; Blumer 1971), and the ‘animal rights movement’ has had its fair share of such scrutiny by both friends and enemies, as well as apparently dispassionate and self-styled ‘moderate’ observers (see, as examples, Sperling 1988; Henshaw 1989; Guither 1998; Kean 1998; Ryder 2000; Regan 2001).  However, the present work attempts to maintain its emphasis on the social conditions and contexts of animal rights claims-making and on many of the sociopsychological circumstances that may help in understanding reactions to it.  It is hoped that social movement strategists involved in opposing animal abuse may gain something beneficial by a consideration what this thesis says about hostile, indifferent and apparently individual reactions to their campaigning messages.






This thesis utilises data from documents, texts and from people, which Francis (1997: 28) points out are, inevitably, the major sources of information available to researchers in the social sciences. 


However, most of the data employed in the thesis has come from secondary sources; from published books written by philosophers, social movement activists and commentators such as journalists; the social and political scientists and historians who have studied the activities and beliefs of advocates for nonhumans and their opponents; from academic research papers and from accounts written in newspapers, magazines and, increasingly, via the internet and email.     


          A limited amount of primary data from six sources features throughout, sometimes in the main text and, quite often, by way of footnotes that inform and comment upon the substantive narrative.  For the majority of the duration of these doctoral studies, I have subscribed to three ‘closed’ or ‘restricted’ discussion, debating and news electronic mail networks organised by animal advocates mostly located in Europe (Britain in the main) and the United States of America.  Such networks have been created for animal advocates engaged in various campaigning that is generally labelled ‘animal rights’, ‘animal liberation’, ‘hunt sabotage’, ‘anti-fur trade campaigning’ and ‘anti-vivisectionism’.  Such lists tend to feature mostly self-declared vegetarian and vegan individuals, with very few contributors who would defend meat eating.  In addition to ‘activist’ members of the lists, a number of contributions come from academic sources, for example from law scholars and psychologists, and from university email addresses.  I have also joined a contributed to ‘open’ discussion groups on human-nonhuman relations which tend to feature various kinds of animal advocates (but welfarists in the main) and an extraordinary number of opponents to ‘animal rights’, who also often claim the title of animal welfarists.  Many contributors to open discussion groups are apparently based in the United States of America and seem to belong to organised ‘countermovements’ who support various forms of animal exploitation, such as animal agriculture, animal experimentation, the fur trade and hunting.


In terms of considerations of contentious issues such as ‘informed consent’ (Hammersley & Atkinson 1995), my mails to such lists have made it clear that my particular interest was often linked to my academic work.  Indeed, I have fairly regularly asked direct Ph.D.-related questions on the lists, again indicating that data is being requested for possible inclusion in academic writing or ‘movement’ newsletters, magazines and web sites.[3]  As an additional ethical safeguard, individual email authors were contacted privately in order to obtain their permission to use their names if necessary, or to check certain details offered.[4]  No ‘official’ material offered on lists (for example press releases) have been used without the express permission of the organisation or individuals concerned.  Finally, for the initial period on the lists, my email ‘signature’ which appeared on every sent contribution read: ‘Roger Yates is currently writing a Ph.D. thesis on….’  By this method, several thousand email messages relating to ‘animal issues’ have been collected.  Many hundreds have been stored electronically, and thousands have been preserved on floppy disk. 


In terms of access to the majority of the information provided by these closed networks, my prior involvement in animal rights advocacy has been invaluable.  For example, entry to some electronic mail forums require that candidates are nominated and seconded by animal activists known to the network administrators and existing members.  This degree of ‘privileged access’ facilitated the asking of several questions directly relevant to the interests of the thesis (I estimate that between the three restricted lists, they represent the contributions of at least four hundred individuals from Britain, the USA, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, mainland Europe, Australia and the former Soviet Union).  Virtually every section of the thesis has benefited from this valuable input, as animal advocates have debated the important animal-related and general campaigning issues of the day (such as the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain, the campaigning politics of the so-called ‘Chimp Act’ in the USA, and legislation brought forward or pro-posed that effect social movement activity).  Advocates on these lists also responded to, and commented on, newspaper articles about human-nonhuman relations and ‘campaigning’ in general; they reported on their experiences of attending demonstrations associated with animal and/or environmental protection; and commented on their conferences, and on their meeting members of the public at information stalls and other settings and occasions.


          Further, if statistically extremely limited, data has also accrued from a small email pilot study survey conducted in 1999 when mainly non-vegetarians were asked to briefly respond to questions about eating nonhuman animals and the animal rights critique of the practice (see appendices).  Moreover, late in 2000, a series of open-to-the-public events entitled ‘Animal Rights November’ were organised which involved the showing of three ‘animal rights’ video/films[5] at the main University of Wales campus in Bangor, Gwynedd, which attracted audiences of between 15-40 people over four weeks and provoked some audience debate about the issues raised.  Written notes were compiled at the end of each event that created audience discussion and participation.  In a similar way to the email network data, the notes taken during these ‘animal rights evenings’ have sometimes helped inform the substance of the thesis, especially because one or two ‘pro-use’ advocates (for example, a ‘young Welsh farmer’) elaborated on their attitudees about human-nonhuman relations and debated points with others present at the video evenings.


          For various sections of the thesis, and for the section entitled ‘rituals of dominionism’ in particular, several pro- and anti-hunting organisations’ web sites were visited in 1999 and 2000.  Most consulted web sites were ‘bookmarked’ for the duration of the doctorate (and beyond) for the purpose of revisiting for clarification purposes, and sometimes to send specific questions via ‘email links’ to particular individuals or organisations.  A small-scale review of several books published for children and teenagers about animals and human-nonhuman relations was also conducted during the period of the Ph.D.  Data from this analysis is included in both in sections within the main text and as an appendix to the thesis.  Although this data appears representative in general terms for the precise purpose used here, no systematic quantitative research was conducted to attempt to establish such validity claims.  As a consequence, the limitations and the suggestive character of the data must be recognised and is made clear within appropriate sections of the present study.  As said, as a general rule, the limited empirical element within this thesis is presented chiefly in footnote form throughout the work when the data appeared relevant or provided a comment on the substantive narrative.



Language Use.



There has been an attempt throughout the thesis to avoid any language that may be regarded as racist, ageist, homophobic, sexist - or speciesist.  With regards to citations of other people’s work, say, in ‘block quote’ form, there is a general tendency within the present work not to correct or comment on the language with the use of ‘[sic]’, although this device is employed once or twice to mark particularly incongruous language use.  Although there are tendencies to disapprove of racist/sexist/speciesist language in contemporary work concerning human-nonhuman relations, any of the cited writers who do employ such terms, especially those writing before the 1980s, for example, must be seen inevitably as ‘products of their time’ to some degree or another.  Consequently, many may genuinely not have been fully aware of the negative implications of what they wrote.  For example, the work of the humanitarian, social reformer and perhaps the first ‘animal rights’ advocate, Henry Salt, ‘born amongst the privileged Victorian classes in 1851’ (Gold 1998: 5), informs this thesis in various places.  However, his language is often blatantly ‘un-PC’, especially (and perhaps ironically) from an animal rights perspective, as he generally used terms such as ‘lower animals’ and ‘brutes’ to describe animals other than human beings.




‘Nature’ and Nonhumans and the Sociological Imagination.



Sociological Speciesism:

The Invisibility of Nonhuman Animals.


In the mid-1990s, criminologist Piers Beirne invited scholars to seriously consider whether the sociology of crime in particular, and the discipline of sociology in general, could be accused of displaying what he described as a ‘through-going speciesism’ in theorising and analyses (Beirne 1995: 6, 24).  In the same year, Wolch, West & Gaines (1995: 735) claimed that ‘Contemporary urban theory is anthropocentric’.


Beirne suggests that the vast majority of sociologists must surely plead guilty to such a charge and concludes that, ‘the untheorised treatment of animals as mere objects in the literature of sociology and criminology is an embarrassing reflection of how they are massively and routinely treated in factory farms, research laboratories, zoos, and aquaria, and of how, too, they are displayed as items of clothing and, sometimes, as pets.  Animals are used and abused by humans in many of the same ways, and for many of the same dominionistic reasons, as males oppress women and whites have enslaved persons of colour’ (ibid. 24).  However, in stark contrast to investigations of harm caused to women and persons of colour, in which their own direct harm is often (but not always) the primary concern, ‘On nearly every occasion that animals appear in criminology ... their presence is entirely subservient to human need and to human problems’ (ibid.: 4).[6]


          According to Hilary Tovey’s recent review of the theorising of non-human animals in the social sciences, little has changed since the mid-1990s: she states that, ‘Despite an increasing intellectual and social interest in ‘the animal question’ in recent decades, animals remain largely invisible in social science texts’ (2003: 196).  Although she clearly believes her criticism applies to the social sciences in general terms, Tovey’s criticism is concentrated on environmental and rural sociology.  For example, of the former, she writes:


if we look to environmental sociology for a perspective which includes animals, we will not find much to help us.  In environmental sociology texts…animals figure primarily in the form of ‘species’ or ‘biodiversity’, or as part of the ecological systems which integrate organisms and habitats (ibid.)



The two consequences of this, Tovey argues, are that environmental sociology ‘tends to absorb animals into ‘wild nature’’, resulting in virtually nothing being said about ‘domestic’, ‘service’, or ‘functional’ animals,[7] and it also recognises nonhumans in the form of ‘population or generic types, without individual character, knowledge, subjectivity or experience’ (ibid.)  She states that, ‘Paraphrasing [geographers] Wolch and Emel, we might say that to read most sociology texts, one might never know that society is populated by non-human as well as human animals’ (ibid.: 197).[8]


          Tovey argues, taking a similar line to Mason (1993), that the way animals are theorised in sociology is part of the wider understanding of how ‘nature’ is treated or ‘imagined’.  Milbourne (2003: 194) says that the theoretical position of nonhuman animals in recent writing on ‘social nature’ is ‘problematic’.  A great deal of debate has ensued in efforts to attempt to think about ‘wild’ and ‘domesticated’ animals, and Ted Benton (1993) tells his readers that notions of ‘wildness’ and ‘in the wild’ are indeed problematic.  For example, Benton writes:


Non-human animal populations ‘in the wild’ already stand in social relations with human populations and are affected by human social practices, by way of human socially-established powers with respect to, and impacts upon, their environmental conditions of life (1993: 67).



Tovey argues that a political economy of nature which sought to examine inequalities in access to nature would have to include virtually all nonhuman animals, be they ‘domestic’ or ‘wild’, because ‘only very few species remain which are not in some type of contact with human beings’ (2003: 202).  Through a concentration on sociologies of the environment, which often claim to be concerned with ‘nature’ as well as ‘society’; or concerned with both at the same time, Tovey investigates what sociologists may mean in their understanding(s) of the term ‘nature’.  She says some environmental sociologists claim a desire to ‘reform sociology’ to the extent of bringing ‘nature in’.  For example, in 1994, Murphy suggested that, for too long, ‘sociology has been constructed as if nature didn’t matter’ (cited in ibid.)  Others want to ‘‘sociologise’ environmental science’ in order to demonstrate the limitation of discussing nature without discussing people.  Tovey finds, speaking in general terms, that most environmental perspectives in sociology approach ‘nature’ in similar ways:  ‘They either scientise it,[9] as matter/material resources/material processes (or accounts of these[10]), or aestheticise it, as landscape and countryside[11] (or claims on these[12])’.  Such ways of ‘imagining’ the natural world, she suggests, ‘considerably constrain the possibilities for recognising animals as part of nature’ (ibid.: 198).  In all these accounts, ‘domestic animals’ remain almost invisible, so much so that, ‘claims made about ‘nature’ often appear strange or senseless if we try to include such animals within them’ (ibid.: 199).  All too often nonhumans appear abstractly within notions of ‘living nature’ (as opposed to nonliving nature) and ideas about ‘wilderness’, ‘species’ and ‘biodiversity’. 


          Sociologists have turned their attention toward groups of nonhumans living ‘in the wild’, while rather neglecting ‘domesticated’ animals, who are enigmatic in environmental sociology, Tovey claims.  However, individuals in the latter category are considerably more subject to human instrumentalism than those in the former.  To the extent that sociologists have behaved neglectfully toward nonhuman animals, they have done little more than any conventional orientation to human-nonhuman relations.  However, Tovey claims that there is a disparity between the public view of nonhuman animals and that of scientists,[13] environmental sociologists and environmental NGOs.  She says, ‘In largely ignoring animal issues, environmental sociologists seem to be closer to the pulse of the professional environmental movement than to that of the general public’ (ibid.: 203).  She further states that:


A social constructionist investigation into the way in which environmental sociology ‘accounts for’ animals might conclude that it has been much more strongly influenced by ecological science’s vision of them as organisms within a system, or by Cartesian visions of them as complicated machines, than by the accounts found in lay society (ibid.)



In terms of this thesis’ examination of the differences between animal welfare and nonhuman rights views, Tovey’s implication that the ‘pulse of the general public’ amounts to an ‘animal rights’ consciousness can be seriously questioned.  For example, as evidence of the contemporary public view of nonhumans, she cites Hilary Rose who makes the utterly exaggerated claim that: ‘Unquestionably the big British debate about nature is the issue of animal rights and welfare.  Increasingly it is assumed that no sensitive caring person can be anything other than into animal rights… the epicentre of today’s UK nature politics is animal rights, with green nature in second place’ (1998: 93; 94).[14] 


Although nonhuman rights advocates would surely wish that any of that were true, sadly it is not.  Nevertheless, in terms of Tovey’s point about scientists, environmental sociologists and the public (Wynne’s [1996][15] ‘expert-lay knowledge divide’), this probably stands as a fairly accurate reflection of present orientations toward human-nonhuman relations.


When scholars have investigated issues such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE - commonly known as ‘mad cow disease’, see Macnaughten & Urry [1998], and the section on foot and mouth disease in Part Two of the present work) they tend to treat it ‘as a problem for the humans rather than the cows’ (Tovey 2003: 200).  Cows suffering with BSE figure in such analysis as ‘physical systems’ and ‘objects of scientific and political control’: ‘the Fordist reorganisation of animal husbandry is treated as generating human problems – fear of food, loss of trust in expert systems, loss of state legitimacy.  What it may be doing to the animals is scarcely seen as a relevant topic of discussion’ (ibid.)


          Some theorists, such as Hannigan (1995), investigating the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone known as BST, concentrate on claims-making activities of social movements and that of their countermovements.  In such analysis, nonhuman animals may feature as individuals or as groups in the sense that they are the subjects of claims made by animal welfare and ‘animal rights’ campaigners as well as scientists and representatives of the dairy industry.  Such analysis, however, is limited to the extent of acknowledging that farm animals have a ‘welfare’ which the use of BST may ultimately decrease (Tovey 2003: 200).  The chief concern remains the human problems caused by scientific developments, application, and matters such as public confidence in political and marketing claims.


          Tovey claims that Hannigan’s (1995) book contains a discursive section that ‘is quite revealing of how…environmental sociologists imagine nature and render animals invisible’.  She presents an account of the debate as delineated by Hannigan:


Hannigan is here defending the constructionist approach against criticism made particularly by the ‘realism’ school of environmental sociology in Britain, specifically Benton, Dickens, and Martell…  He notes that both Benton and Martell crtiticise constructionism by attacking Keith Tester’s (1991) argument that a fish is only a fish when socially classified as such.  Benton sees Tester as reducing any reality external to discourse to ‘an unknowable ghostly presence’, while Martell argues that Tester is wrong to deny that animals have rights because they are of equal value to humans, in favour of saying concern with animals helps us to define ourselves as ‘superior moral beings’.  Hannigan comments that these ‘attacks’ on social constructionism have something to do with a ‘sociology of animal rights’, but his defence takes the form of reasserting that not all social constructionists are ‘absolute relativists’, and he develops this through reference to ‘greenhouse gas emissions’, levels of ‘resources/waste-absorbent and food-production capacities’, ‘climatic and atmospheric effects’ (p. 188).  He makes no comment on the ‘equal rights’ of animals argument, but discusses instead the difficulties sociologists have in evaluating or adjudicating on scientific (not moral or political, which would seem much more relevant) claims (Tovey 2003: 201).            



Much of the above, and perhaps particularly this passage, reveals the ‘single central debate’ in recent environmental sociology: ‘This is the debate between ‘realist’ and ‘social constructionist’ understandings of nature’ (ibid.: 203).  Tovey explains the approaches in the following way:


The realist position is usually represented as treating society and nature as a dualism of separate but interrelated entities, where the task of the social analyst [is] to clarify how they are interrelated and with what effects; social constructionists see nature-and-society as a duality, as a contested cultural reality which exists in diverse forms in the activities of claims-making and social mobilisation around ‘nature’ and its processes (ibid.: 203-4).



While both constructionists and realists argue that their position is ‘embattled’ against the other, Irwin has recently argued that the debate between them is sterile and dull (Irwin 2001, cited in ibid.: 204).  Murphy (2002) reveals that the debate continues nevertheless.  Tovey, however, says that sterile and dull is not the same as irrelevant and, anyway, it is not irrelevant in relation to the issue of the invisibility of nonhumans in the present work.  In a torturous section of her paper, citing the works of Hannigan, Smith, Beck, Benton, Franklin and Dickens, Tovey succeeds in establishing that the labelling of such theorists can be ‘mystifactory’ and rather unhelpful, especially in the case of some writers, such as Beck, who ‘is well-known for his refusal to be defined as either a social constructionist or a realist’ (ibid.)  Within a single ‘school’, such as the ‘realist school’, important theoretical differences may be seen.  Tovey states that at least two types of approaches in ‘realist theorisations of nature’ can be distinguished: ‘one addresses nature in terms of its capacity for backlash or boomerang on human actors, while another tries to grasp the shared and common experiences of human and nonhuman animals which are imposed by social processes’ (ibid.: 205).  Tovey argues that it is possible ‘that realist approaches to nature have a greater chance of making animals ‘visible’ to sociology than social constructionist approaches do’, yet she acknowledges that the ‘backlash’ or ‘boomerang’ theories ‘help to reproduce the society-nature division’ rather than transcend it, which the ‘shared’ and ‘common experiences’ approach attempts to do.


          Although not equally, perhaps, all perspectives can - with some thought - make visible the lives and experiences of nonhuman animals.  Tovey suggests that nonhumans such as ‘food animals’ cannot but be seen as a part of society, and thus a real concern for the sociological imagination.  Environmental sociologists are often fully engaged with Beck’s ‘risk’ thesis but Tovey takes him to task in respect of nonhumans.  For example, when Beck (2000) ‘revisited’ Risk Society he claimed he saw a loss of boundary between ‘nature and culture/society’ brought about by the industrialisation of nature and culture.  One effect, Beck argues, is the creation of hazards that ‘endanger humans, animals and plants alike’ (2000: 221).  Tovey claims there are risks for nonhumans that Beck fails to ‘imagine’ (2003: 206).  For example, in the case of foot and mouth, it is ‘a ‘natural’ disease (not man-made like BSE)’.  Foot and mouth may not be fatal to the majority of nonhumans who contract it.  What is fatal for them is how humans ‘interpret’ and ‘manage’ the disease: ‘both the means for its rapid and extensive transmission are largely man-made, and the solutions to it adopted by humans consist in slaughtering animals’ (ibid, emphases in original.)


          Such factors mean that it, ‘does not ‘endanger humans and animals alike’, and its management has tended to confirm rather than disconfirm the ‘modernist’ distinction between society and nature and the right, even the necessity, for social actors to treat animals in purely instrumental ways’ (ibid.)  Tovey further argues that, in fact:


when we think of food animals, it is hard to avoid concluding that the ‘boundaries between society and nature’ which Beck sees as redefined by the rise of environmental risks are already subject to multiply definitions: there is in fact no single ‘modernist’ understanding of these boundaries (ibid.)



Raymond Murphy (1994) also investigates risk and Tovey argues that his political economy approach to nature ‘would seem to have no difficulty in including animals’, which she approves of since she is keen to ‘rethink society to include animals’ (2003: 207, 209). Having said this about Murphy’s work, it is also true that his perspective does not go out of its way to make nonhumans visible.  This is in contrast to, say, Mason’s (1993) approach in which he talks generally about ‘nature’ but claims several times that nonhuman animals are its most visual and vital component of it.  Tovey regards Murphy as ‘devoted to challenging the idea of ‘equality of risk’’ (2003: 206).  Murphy devises ‘environmental classes’ that are different in that they have differing degrees of ‘interdependence’ with nature.  As a so-called ‘boomerang’ idea, different environmental classes also experience variable degrees of nature’s ‘recoil’ also.


          Murphy writes: ‘The exploitation of the environment by one group to the detriment of other groups constitutes (1) the exploitation of the latter, and (2) the division of society into environmental classes’ (Murphy 1994: 166, cited in ibid.)  Power differentials also mark ‘environmental classes’, meaning: who has ‘power to manipulate nature, and benefit from of such manipulation.  Who, furthermore, experiences differences in terms of any ‘boomerang’ effect.  In other words, who experiences ‘differences in suffering the harmful effects of this manipulation’ (1994: 170, cited in ibid.)  In an ‘objective relationship to environmental exploitation’, the ‘most seriously victimised are often not in a position to lead or even participate in the struggle against their victimisation’ (1994: 167, cited in ibid.)  Imagining ‘class positions’ of ‘environmental victims’, Murphy is moving toward categories that could include nonhuman animals: who benefits as well as who is harmed by environmental damage; who may be said to be a volunteer in systems that so damage; who are influential within systems; who are merely ‘innocent’ bystanders’?  Even more ‘distanced’ than those who form this latter category are ‘foetuses and future generations’ (ibid.): perhaps human and nonhuman? 


          Tovey makes the claim to involve nonhumans because foetuses are included and because, ‘Self-conscious awareness of class position and struggle against it are excluded’.  She concludes that ‘there seems to be no good reason for not including all species capable of suffering from human exploitation of the environment’ (ibid.)  Returning to her emphasis on ‘farm animals’, Tovey acknowledges that there would be disagreement about their precise conceptual position (for example, as ‘first-party victims’ – are they ruled out of this position because they ‘benefit’ in their involvement in systems of exploitation? – or are they ‘third-party’ victims or bystanders?)  Although she cannot see reason to theoretically exclude ‘farm animals’, she notes that Murphy – along with so-called ‘Ecological Modernisationists’ – has a tendency to do just that: ‘The absence of non-‘wild’ animals from [Murphy’s] environmental analysis follows from his understanding of nature as external to or the opposite of human social life’ (ibid.: 207).


          Peter Dickens’ work (1992, 1996) may be regarded as examples of Tovey’s ‘second type of ‘realist’ theory’, that which tries to grasp the shared and common experiences of human and nonhuman animals imposed by social processes.  Again, revealing the pitfalls involved in labelling other theorists, Dickens has been described as a ‘critical realist’, also ‘a theorist concerned to establish the ‘independent reality’ of nature from society’, and a ‘materialist’ reworking Marx’s concept of ‘species being’.


          This latter concern at least, says Tovey (2003: 207), means that it is possible to ‘re-establish connections’ between humans and nonhuman animals through Marx.  For Dickens, Marx suggests that humans and nonhumans have a ‘natural being’ related to their biological and instinctual needs, and humans have a ‘species being’ based on their self-consciousness, creativity and sociability.  Such ideas have served to emphasise dualism and difference between humans and other animals, yet Dickens suggests that they could just as easily point toward continuity and similarity.  If the notion of ‘natural being’ means that many types of animal strive to serve their biological and instinctual needs; they also organise the satisfying of nutritional, sheltering and reproductive requirements.  Such needs are satisfied in various ways but Dickens suggests that, essentially, humans have specific ways of doing what other animals do.  Apparently, this idea can be reversed in the sense that his later work ‘applies the same argument to non-human species, and examines the specific ways in which they do, or experience, what humans do or experience’ (ibid.)


          Tovey suggests that sociologists have mistakenly ignored such matters, assuming that they are concerns of ‘animal behaviourists’ and some anthropologists, rather than theirs.  Academic disciplines often seek to differentiate themselves from others and Tovey suggests that, for this reason, sociologists rarely have ‘strayed’ from considerations of the human world.  However, she says that work such as Dickens’ shows that ‘social theory can be illuminatingly applied to animals to explain their position and fate in modern society’ (ibid.)  Tovey notes that Dickens (1996):


addresses modern humans’ ‘alienated’ relations with nature but…combines with this an analysis of how other animal species are also alienated, arguing that the advanced division of labour and the expanding penetration of market relations in late modernity are common alienating processes for both humans and non-human animals (ibid.)



Stating that, ‘Like humans, animals can be seen as having a natural being and a species being’, Tovey once more turns toward her emphasis on ‘domesticated’ animals, agreeing with Dickens that modern capitalism ‘undermines and destroys the distinctive essence of being human’ and it can have a ‘similar effect on animals’:


More and more animals are brought into the circuit of money capital, in which they are treated as merely inputs to a process of commodity food production.  This affects how the animal’s capacity to develop, given their species being, is realised in practice, distorting it severely.  Much like industrial workers, food animals have been subject to mechanisation, rationalisation, and automation (ibid.)



Consequential of all this, Tovey argues, nonhumans ‘lose most of their natural capacities – to seek and choose their own food, to chose a mate, to rear their young’.  She says that Dickens regards this as a form of ‘de-skilling’:


They are separated from their fellow animals, deprived of communication, social play, social learning.  Like humans, they are made to specialise – as ‘beef cattle’ or ‘milk cattle’, as ‘layers’ or ‘broilers’ (ibid.: 208).



Dickens contends that the alienated experience of modern humans under capitalism can be applied to numerous other animals as well.  He sees many nonhumans as skilled individuals who possess ‘learned tacit knowledge’.  In modern systems of animal exploitation, these individuals are ‘subjugated and marginalised’ by human beings.  Tovey states that Dickens is drawn to the conclusion that the fate of many nonhuman animals ‘is the same experience of alienation as captured by Marx in his analysis of…industrial workers under capitalism’.  With this thought he brings food animals into ‘human cognitive space, recognising them as creatures both similar to and yet different from humans’ (ibid.)





[1]   Scarce cites Bijker, Hughes & Pinch (1987), Latour (1987), Knorr-Cetina & Mulkay (1983) and Zuckerman (1988) as examples of this ‘strong program’.

[2]   Not just discoveries about nonhuman physical and cognitive capacities and abilities have the potential to alter the moral picture.  It is now common to comment on the ‘genetic closeness’ of humans and other apes. This awareness that ‘we apes’ share up to 98% of our genetic make-up is relatively recently discovered.  Jared Diamond (1991: 10) says we go back only as far as mid to late 1980’s to find this molecular biological revelation.  Oxford ‘professor of the public understanding of science’, Richard Dawkins, predicted in a recent Guardian article (27 Dec 2001) that the advent of the human and chimpanzee genome projects will have an inevitable impact on ethics, to the extent of ‘very effectively’ shattering ‘our speciesist illusions’.  However, geneticist Steve Jones (Beyond the Genome, BBC Radio 4, 16-1-2002) maintains that the fact that humans are ‘100% human’ makes the ultimate moral difference that effectively enables humans to exploit nonhumans, while being simultaneously concerned for their ‘welfare’.

[3]   The response ‘do your own homework!’ has been received more than once after such direct questioning.

[4]   For example, the email reproduced in Appendix One received on Tue, 3 Aug 1999 was sent to me after I wrote privately to a list contributor to clarify her posting.

[5]   The films were (1) The Animals Film, a two-hour documentary transmitted on British television in 1982; (2) A Cow at My Table, a 1998 US film made about ‘animals, meat and culture’ and (3) The Animal Rights Debate from an evening of animal-related programmes on BBC2 television in the 1980’s.  The debate featured animal advocates Tom Regan, Richard Ryder and Andrew Linzey and opponents Mary Warnock, Steven Rose and Germaine Greer and a lengthy discussion involving the invited audience.

[6]   It is suggested that this situation is somewhat analogous to feminist complaints from the 1970s: ‘Daly (1973: 118) [alludes] to the transportability of victimhood.  In the case of sexual assault, for example, the victim is sometimes seen as an abused woman’s spouse.  However, this shared victimhood is often derived not from a male’s assumed empathy towards a woman’s suffering, but from how his property has been damaged or polluted by sexual assault, thereby depicting him – the property owner – as the real victim’ (Yates, Powell & Beirne 2001: 21).

[7]   Tovey names ‘food animals, experimental animals in scientific laboratories, working animals in circuses, transportation or elsewhere’ as these types of animals.

[8]   As ever, there are always exceptions within generalised statements.  Tovey cites Benton (1993); Martell (1994) and Dickens (1996) as sociological texts that ‘recognise animals as fellow experiencers, alongside humans, of social and environmental change’.  Eder (1996) and Franklin (1999) also give ‘considerable visibility’ to animals, ‘but mainly in order to identify and explain changing cultural constructions of them’ (Tovey 2003: 197).

[9]   Murphy (1994).

[10]   Buttel (2000); Freudenberg (2000).

[11]   Macnaughten & Urry (1998).

[12]   Hannigan (1995).

[13]   Tovey cites Wynne’s (1996) research in which nuclear scientists are reported to regard sheep as ‘systems of response to irradiation’.

[14]   Similar sentiments are found on the NAIA’s (National Animal Interest Alliance) website.  They too claim that public discourse is currently dominated by ‘animal rights thinking’.  The NAIA is an animal rights counter-movement whose representatives participate in and defend several forms of nonhuman animal exploitation and contribute to discussion groups such as Yahoo’s Animal_Rights_Debate.

[15]   Wynne’s chapter is entitled: ‘May the sheep safely graze?’.  No, someone will try to eat them sooner or later.