“There Is No Wild”: Conservation and Circus Discourse

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This paper documents the discourse used by contemporary circuses to justify their exploitation of nonhuman animals. The circus is undergoing redefinition due to cultural changes, animal welfare concerns, and political legislation. Critical Discourse Analysis is applied to a sample of articles (N= 128) on animals in circuses published in usnewspapers and magazines from 2007 to 2012. Analyses revealed that circus discourse attempts to (a) promote the circus as an ecologically important endeavor, (b) minimize the differences between human and nonhuman animals, (c) naturalize culturally induced behavior, (d) assert that captivity is preferable to the wild, and (e) collapse domesticity and wildness. These discursive strategies serve to legitimize, naturalize, and produce consent for the use of nonhuman animals in circuses. Furthermore, circus discourse conceptualizes nature and culture in ways that are ideologically significant and detrimental to the promotion of a conservation mindset.

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... A critical discourse analysis was applied by Bell (2015) to examine the discourses of legitimation in the use of animals in contemporary circuses in a context where circuses face ongoing ideological challenges. This current paper utilises discourse analysis not for a circus, but for a marine park, and documents changes in discourse over a three year period while noting the broader context that these changes occurred within. ...
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Observation of Sea World – Gold Coast, Australia’s 2015 and 2018 onsite signage and live animal shows provides indication of a significant shift in legitimating rhetoric. The keeping of animals in captivity has become an increasingly contentious issue requiring zoos and marine parks to reposition themselves to remain viable as tourism enterprises to be sustained into the future. Recent protests by animal rights activists in Australia exemplifies the ideological challenges to the keeping of marine animals in captivity. To survive and thrive all organisations including marine parks must present an ideologically sustainable position which is consistent through their messaging and practices. Participant observation and discourse analysis are applied in this study to reveal the messaging employed by Sea World – Gold Coast, Australia in two separate years, and by doing so to identify the changes in legitimation framing over the period. Examples of onsite signage and live animal shows at the theme park, demonstrate that the legitimating discourses have shifted from its role in educating the public about marine animals and conservation in 2015, to highlighting its role as authorised, expert facility understood as a place of refuge to care for individual animals in 2018.
... This kind of interaction is called presentation (Beardsworth and Bryman 2001) and differs from an encounter which occurs in the animals' habitat. Although recent changes have been made in the ways the aforementioned institutions frame and perform their activities, several scholars argue that they tend to promote a conceptualization of wild animals and nature that is detrimental to the promotion of a conservation mindset (Fennell 2012(Fennell , 2013bBell 2015). ...
This study adopts an eco-feminist perspective and investigates leisure activities involving seals occurring in the area of Tromsø, an Arctic town in Norway. The aim is to contribute to the discussion of the existence of various conceptualisations of wild animals, with particular attention to their implications in terms of animal welfare and wellbeing, and the promotion of specific ways we as humans view wild animals and ourselves. The data was collected through promotional material, local media and history literature consultation, and participant observation. The results suggest four co-existing conceptualisations of seals: as part of the local cultural heritage, as prey and pest, as friends and pets, and as entertainers. These conceptualisations are discussed in relation to the components of the leisure experience (entertainment, education, self-identity construction), animal welfare and wellbeing, and the ethical implications of the way the local people perceive the seals and view themselves as humans.
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Wildlife tourism is often promoted as a mechanism for raising the socioeconomic value of wildlife as well as enhancing awareness of and support for conservation. This chapter synthesizes insights from conservation, criminology, and sociological theory. It then profiles different forms of wildlife tourism and the associated benefits and risks. The chapter examines how criminology, natural resources management, and risk and decision science are integral to examining the links between wildlife tourism and conservation crime. Next, it describes how sociological work on power relations and authenticity can further enhance analysis. Finally, a case study of elephant tourism, crime, and conservation in Thailand is presented, based on two months of observational and interview data gathered by the author. This case illustrates how sociology contributes to thinking about conservation crime as well as builds theory to examine questions about the use of wildlife tourism for conservation and the reduction of risks associated with wildlife tourism.
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With the relatively recent advent of the factory farming industry (or corporations that confine, breed, fatten, and slaughter nonhuman animals using modern industrial methods), an assortment of corporate strategies have ensued that construct an image of a benevolently beneficial industry. Far from benign, however, factory farms are responsible for a tremendous amount of environmental damage, and although the concerns are significant, the controversy surrounding factory farms and activists’ strategies have rendered little, if any, change. Part of the reason for this ineffectiveness is the immense power of the discursive strategies constructed to support the industry. This article focuses on two codependent corporate strategies: (1) the widespread use of “doublespeak” to describe particular processes internal to the industry, and (2) the creation of “speaking” animals in advertisements to sell the products of those industrial processes. The author argues that these discourses help construct how US Americans think about animals in ways that—tacitly and oftentimes unintentionally—endorse industry practices even in the face of serious concerns raised by environmental and animal advocates.
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Modern-day zoos and aquariums market themselves as places of education and conservation. A recent study conducted by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) (Falk et al., 2007) is being widely heralded as the fi rst direct evidence that visits to zoos and aquariums pro-duce long-term positive eff ects on people's attitudes toward other animals. In this paper, we address whether this conclusion is warranted by analyzing the study's methodological soundness. We conclude that Falk et al. (2007) contains at least six major threats to methodological validity that undermine the authors' conclusions. Th ere remains no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in visitors, although further investigation of this possibility using methodologically sophisticated designs is warranted.
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Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are often used in movies, commercials and print advertisements with the intention of eliciting a humorous response from audiences. The portrayal of chimpanzees in unnatural, human-like situations may have a negative effect on the public's understanding of their endangered status in the wild while making them appear as suitable pets. Alternatively, media content that elicits a positive emotional response toward chimpanzees may increase the public's commitment to chimpanzee conservation. To test these competing hypotheses, participants (n = 165) watched a series of commercials in an experiment framed as a marketing study. Imbedded within the same series of commercials was one of three chimpanzee videos. Participants either watched 1) a chimpanzee conservation commercial, 2) commercials containing "entertainment" chimpanzees or 3) control footage of the natural behavior of wild chimpanzees. Results from a post-viewing questionnaire reveal that participants who watched the conservation message understood that chimpanzees were endangered and unsuitable as pets at higher levels than those viewing the control footage. Meanwhile participants watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees showed a decrease in understanding relative to those watching the control footage. In addition, when participants were given the opportunity to donate part of their earnings from the experiment to a conservation charity, donations were least frequent in the group watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees. Control questions show that participants did not detect the purpose of the study. These results firmly support the hypothesis that use of entertainment chimpanzees in the popular media negatively distorts the public's perception and hinders chimpanzee conservation efforts.
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New Zealanders (n = 354) rated the acceptability of lethal and nonlethal cat control methods and the importance of conservation and welfare. Lethal control was more acceptable for feral cats than strays; for nonlethal control, the inverse was true. More than concern for the welfare of cats subjected to control, perceived conservation benefits, risk of disease transfer, and companion cat welfare dictated the acceptability of control measures. Similarly, the welfare consideration for groups of cats differed, transitioning from companion (highest) to feral (lowest). Differences in attitudes toward acceptability of control methods were evident. In particular, nonhuman animal professionals ranked lethal control as more acceptable than did nonanimal professionals. Cat caregivers (owners) considered both conservation and welfare issues of greater importance than did nonowners. Owners ranked the acceptability of nonlethal control methods higher for stray cats, but not feral, than did nonowners. This research indicates that the use of the terms stray and feral may have significant impact on cats in New Zealand. There is also a greater consideration of conservation values than of welfare in stray and feral cat control.
Our businesses, policies, and lifestyles cause unexamined consequences for other people and other living beings, and exact sweeping destruction on the very ecosystems which support all life, including our own. A major factor contributing to this destructive behavior is the anthropocentric character of the dominant Western world view, which conceives of the nonhuman living world as apart from and less important than the human world, and which conceptualizes nonhuman nature-including animals, plants, ecological systems, the land, and the atmosphere-as inert, silent, passive, and valuable only for its worth as a resource for human consumption. This anthropocentric conceptual framework is constructed, transmitted, and reproduced in the realm of discourse, in all of the modes and avenues through which we make and express cultural meaning. We need to make explicit the ways that mainstream Western and American discourse promotes anthropocentrism and masks, denies, or denigrates interdependence, and we need to find ways to reformulate and reframe our discouse if we are to produce the sort of ecological consciousness that will be essential for creating a sustainable future.
Consider the career of an enduring if controversial icon of American entertainment: the genial circus elephant. In Entertaining Elephants Susan Nance examines elephant behavior-drawing on the scientific literature of animal cognition, learning, and communications-to offer a study of elephants as actors (rather than objects) in American circus entertainment between 1800 and 1940. By developing a deeper understanding of animal behavior, Nance asserts, we can more fully explain the common history of all species. Entertaining Elephants is the first account that uses research on animal welfare, health, and cognition to interpret the historical record, examining how both circus people and elephants struggled behind the scenes to meet the profit necessities of the entertainment business. The book does not claim that elephants understood, endorsed, or resisted the world of show business as a human cultural or business practice, but it does speak of elephants rejecting the conditions of their experience. They lived in a kind of parallel reality in the circus, one that was defined by their interactions with people, other elephants, horses, bull hooks, hay, and the weather. Nance's study informs and complicates contemporary debates over human interactions with animals in entertainment and beyond, questioning the idea of human control over animals and people's claims to speak for them. As sentient beings, these elephants exercised agency, but they had no way of understanding the human cultures that created their captivity, and they obviously had no claim on (human) social and political power. They often lived lives of apparent desperation. © 2013 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.
This article takes a critical discourse approach to an investigation of the representation of nature in BBC World Service radio. Presuming a weak form of the Whorfian hypothesis, whose current evaluation in linguistics is discussed at some length, it uses systemic functional grammar and tools for computing collocations to interrogate the COBUILD Direct/Bank of English BBC World Service subcorpus. Firstly, having established a rough hierarchy of power among participants in the clause, it investigates the relative power of ten classes of natural objects', discovering that weather, and disease are the most powerful and plants and minerals the least. It finds nature frequently marginalized as environment' rather than involved as a participant. It then proceeds to look at the typical collocates of the natural objects selected, demonstrating the importance of economics, politics, and warfare to the representation of nature, which is largely seen as passive and exploitable. It argues that, due to the anthropocentric nature of news values, nature is typically recognized as powerful when the processes are open to human perception and are perceived as a threat to humans. A brief comparison is made with Wordsworth's The Prelude' which is shown to involve different representations, where nature is more communicative, reflecting a different genre and an oppositional ideology
This article deals with exclusion and the construction of periphery as modes of ritualizing and binding together a dominant social order. Under scrutiny is the peripheral British traveling circus and the way its traveling and performance define the margins of the modern fragmented order, particularly vis-á-vis the crisis of the premodern Culture/Nature paradigm. A lion act presents the Culture/Nature opposition, that is, human trainer, props, routines versus animals, in the context of circus traveling (fieldwork carried out in 1975–79). The circus display of both animals and humans as exemplifications of their own kind erases their "realness," turning them into images in the public's perception. However, a totalization of the performance and of the display of circus traveling reifies the animal and human images and the circus image, with the effect of placing them out of social time and relations. On the margin of the fragmented modern order, the reified traveling circus thus embodies transcendence of culture/nature categories and implies its own ontological apartness. For its nostalgic spectators, it thereby illusorily resurrects a totality of order—from which the circus itself is apart.
The methods by which animal performance is made legible to audiences depend upon a historically contingent set of material practices and social relationships among humans and animals: an “animal apparatus” that is distinctly “middle-brow” and implicated in constructions of bourgeois subjectivity. However, the fleshly presence of the animal also routinely causes it to exceed this order of signification, offering a site for an ethics of resistance to anthropogenic ideologies.
The academic disciplines of theatre history and performance studies have yet to confront or make use of the growing trend toward Darwinian thinking in the social sciences, particularly psychology and anthropology. This essay focuses on exploring the application of memetics—a branch of cultural evolution theory—to theatre and performance history by using the phenomenon of wild animal shows, specifically big cat exhibitions, as a case study. A meme is the cultural equivalent of the "selfish" gene: a unit of imitation, representation, or information that forms the basis of a cultural inheritance system. A Darwinian historiography reframes causal factors as "selection pressures" and the culture of any particular time and place as a changing physical and social environment to which spectatorship, performance practices, and representational contents adapt over time. Memetics takes seriously the possibility that cultural traits such as performance traditions and genres evolve according to criteria that only make sense when viewed as if the adaptations benefited the memes' own replication, frequency, and survival over time. Where evolutionary psychology and other cognitive approaches emphasize the innate cognitive biases of our social minds, memetics would trace the inherited cultural lineage of specific attitudes, beliefs, and practices, all of which are realized in the social sphere as information that has been replicated and transmitted.
By referring to several wild animal acts presented in Australia in the 1890s at the high-status circuses of Frank Fillis and the FitzGerald Brothers, this essay explores the complex cultural interactions that occurred in the relationship between these major circuses and their late-colonial public. The author matches the circus’s wild animal act to nation-building tropes and examines the narratives of identity, patriotism, allegiance, and power that were articulated through these popular and unusual performances.
This paper looks at discourses related to animal farming in a popular South African farming magazine. The paper analyzes four ar ticles using a form of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Despite varying widely in content and style, all articles draw from the discourses of production and science; two also show a minor discourse of achievement. With further work, it is possible to discern a fourth, deeply embedded discourse: that of enslavement. This also was present in all the articles. These discourses objectify nonhuman animals and support a world-view of teleological anthropocentrism that fits well with present capitalist practices.
This paper describes how language contributes to the oppression and exploitation of animals by animal product industries. Critical Discourse Analysis, a framework usually applied in countering racism and sexism, is applied to a corpus of texts taken from animal industry sources. The mass confinement and slaughter of animals in intensive farms depend on the implicit consent of the population, signaled by its willingness to buy animal products produced in this way. Ideological assumptions embedded in everyday discourse and that of the animal industries manufacture and maintain this consent. Through analysis of texts, this paper attempts to expose these assumptions and discusses implications for countering the domination and exploitation of animals.
In the past, pigs were kept near their guardians' (owners') homes, ate leftovers from their guardians' kitchens and enjoyed a generally close relationship with humans. The closeness of the relationship, combined with its ultimate end in the killing of the pig, led to a sense of shame (Leach, 1964). This shame manifested itself in negative expressions about pigs within the English language, which remain to this day. However, the relationship between humans and pigs is becoming increasingly distant, with decisions affecting pigs' lives made in the offices of agricultural industry executives far from the intensive farms on which the pigs live. The new relationship has led to the evolution of a new discourse about pigs, that of the modern pork industry. Because of its technical and scientific nature, this new discourse does not contain the explicit insults of mainstream discourse.Yet, embedded within it are a series of implicit ideological assumptions designed to justify the confinement and exploitation of pigs in high intensity farms. This paper investigates the discourses surrounding pigs in both mainstream (British) culture and the pork industry and discusses attempts to challenge these discourses.
The history of brushtail possums in New Zealand is bleak. The colonists who forcibly transported possums from their native Australia to New Zealand in the nineteenth century valued them as economic assets, quickly establishing a profitable fur industry. Over the past 80 or so years, however, New Zealand has increasingly scapegoated possums for the unanticipated negative impact their presence has had on the native environment and wildlife. Now this marsupial—blamed and despised—suffers the most miserable of reputations and is extensively targeted as the nation's number one pest. This paper examines anti-possum rhetoric in New Zealand, identifying the operation of several distinct—yet related—discourses negatively situating the possum as (a) an unwanted foreign invader and a threat to what makes New Zealand unique; (b) the subject of revenge and punishment (ergo the deserving recipient of exploitation and commodification); and (c) recognizably “cute, but...” merely a pest and therefore unworthy of compassion. This paper argues that the demonization of possums in New Zealand is overdetermined, extreme, and unhelpfully entangled in notions of patriotism and nationalism.
Little understood in early U.S. history, the Florida manatee suffered at the hands of people. After the manatees were listed as endangered, scientists began to study manatees and gained much knowledge about them. With education efforts, the species then went from inspiring acts of cruelty to inspiring dedication and admiration among scientists, policymakers, and the interested public. The image of the manatee underwent a transformation. The social and cultural reinvention of the Florida manatees improved their chances for protection.
During 1921 and 1922, before the passage of the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act in 1925, a British parliamentary Select Committee undertook a detailed investigation into the degree to which animal performances in the circus and on the music-hall stage depended on cruelty. The investigation took place against a background of intense public interest that had been stimulated by the emergence of a new pressure group, the Performing Animals' Defence League. This paper examines the nature of political and press interests in the surrounding controversy and the detail of political involvement in a prolonged public dispute that suddenly arose after the war and was kept on the boil by fulminations in the national and trade press and on the floor of Parliament. As sides were taken, the motives, characteristics, and contributions of politicians and press are discussed, together with the debates contributing to the legislation and its aftermath.
This article explores the representation of fish in ecological discourse through analysis of the recently published Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) synthesis report. The analysis utilizes an ecological framework based on "deep ecology" (Naess, 1990), examining how the discourse of the MA asserts or denies the intrinsic worth of fish. The discursive construction of fish is particularly relevant given the massive expansion of the aquaculture industry, which is having a negative impact on ecosystems and the fish themselves, particularly the Atlantic salmon. There are alternatives to traditional ecological discourses, such as the lyrical discourse drawn on by Rachel Carson (1962) in her description of salmon. The article concludes with a discussion of the potential of such discourses to represent reality in ways that are more comparable with the welfare of the fish and the protection of ecosystems.
This essay is concerned with the history of wild animal training between the early nineteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries, specifically with circus acts involving ‘big cats’. The author, John Stokes, is sympathetic to the view that such performances are inhumane, degrading to animal and human alike, but rather than simply rehearsing familiar attitudes, he subjects the ‘big cat’ act to a performance analysis based on established criteria, in the belief that, if performance theory is to have the widespread application that its advocates claim, then it should be able to elucidate many different kinds of theatrical event. His primary materials are the myriad biographies and autobiographies of wild animal trainers that were produced during the heyday of their art, and which he finds to be frequently characterized by an unexpected thoughtfulness and breadth of experience, besides being highly informative about performance aesthetics. John Stokes is Professor of Modern British Literature in the Department of English, King's College London. He is a regular theatre reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and co-author, together with Michael R. Booth and Susan Bassnett, of Bernhardt, Terry, Duse: the Actress in Her Time (Cambridge, 1988) and Three Tragic Actresses (Cambridge, 1996).
Human attitudes about killing nonhuman animals are complex, ambivalent, and contradictory. Th is study attempts to elucidate those attitudes through a linguistic analysis of the terms used to refer to the killing of animals. Whereas terms used for killing human beings are highly specific and differentiated on the basis of the motivation for the killing, the nature of the participants, and evaluative and emotional content, terms used for killing animals are vague and interchange-able. Terms for animal-killing often background aspects of the act, making it more palatable to humans. When a term is extended from use with humans to use with animals, it lends a con-notation of compassion and mercy to the killing. When a term is extended from use with ani-mals to use with humans, it gives the killing a connotation of brutality. Th ese findings reflect assumptions about the human "right" to take animals' lives while serving to ameliorate the negative feelings such killings evoke.
A comprehensive synopsis of the welfare of captive, wild (ie non-domesticated) animals in travelling circuses is missing. We examined circus animal welfare and, specifically, behaviour, health, living and travelling conditions. We compared the conditions of non-domesticated animals in circuses with their counterparts kept in zoos. Data on circus animals were very scarce; where data were absent, we inferred likely welfare implications based on zoo data. Circus animals spent the majority of the day confined, about 1–9% of the day performing/training and the remaining time in exercise pens. Exercise pens were significantly smaller than minimum zoo standards for outdoor enclosures. Behavioural budgets were restricted, with circus animals spending a great amount of time performing stereotypies, especially when shackled or confined in beast wagons. A higher degree of stereotyping in circuses may be indicative of poorer welfare. Inadequate diet and housing conditions, and the effects of repeated performances, can lead to significant health problems. Circus animals travel frequently and the associated forced movement, human handling, noise, trailer movement and confinement are important stressors. Although there is no conclusive evidence as to whether animals habituate to travel, confinement in beast wagons for long timeperiods is a definite welfare concern. Circuses have a limited ability to make improvements, such as increased space, environmental enrichment and appropriate social housing. Consequently, we argue that non-domesticated animals, suitable for circus life, should exhibit low space requirements, simple social structures, low cognitive function, non-specialist ecological requirements and an ability to be transported without adverse welfare effects. None of the commonest species exhibited by circuses, such as elephants and large felids, currently meet these criteria. We conclude that the species of non-domesticated animals commonly kept in circuses appear the least suited to a circus life.
In this paper I argue that we can learn much about wild justice and the evolutionary origins of social morality – behaving fairly – by studying social play behavior in group-living animals, and that interdisciplinary cooperation will help immensely. In our efforts to learn more about the evolution of morality we need to broaden our comparative research to include animals other than non-human primates. If one is a good Darwinian, it is premature to claim that only humans can be empathic and moral beings. By asking the question What is it like to be another animal? we can discover rules of engagement that guide animals in their social encounters. When I study dogs, for example, I try to be a dogocentrist and practice dogomorphism. My major arguments center on the following big questions: Can animals be moral beings or do they merely act as if they are? What are the evolutionary roots of cooperation, fairness, trust, forgiveness, and morality? What do animals do when they engage in social play? How do animals negotiate agreements to cooperate, to forgive, to behave fairly, to develop trust? Can animals forgive? Why cooperate and play fairly? Why did play evolve as it has? Does being fair mean being more fit – do individual variations in play influence an individual''s reproductive fitness, are more virtuous individuals more fit than less virtuous individuals? What is the taxonomic distribution of cognitive skills and emotional capacities necessary for individuals to be able to behave fairly, to empathize, to behave morally? Can we use information about moral behavior in animals to help us understand ourselves? I conclude that there is strong selection for cooperative fair play in which individuals establish and maintain a social contract to play because there are mutual benefits when individuals adopt this strategy and group stability may be also be fostered. Numerous mechanisms have evolved to facilitate the initiation and maintenance of social play to keep others engaged, so that agreeing to play fairly and the resulting benefits of doing so can be readily achieved. I also claim that the ability to make accurate predictions about what an individual is likely to do in a given social situation is a useful litmus test for explaining what might be happening in an individual''s brain during social encounters, and that intentional or representational explanations are often important for making these predictions.
From Shamu the dancing whale at Sea World to Hawaiian lu'au shows, Staging Tourism analyzes issues of performance in a wide range of tourist venues. Jane C. Desmond argues that the public display of bodies—how they look, what they do, where they do it, who watches, and under what conditions—is profoundly important in structuring identity categories of race, gender, and cultural affiliation. These fantastic spectacles of corporeality form the basis of hugely profitable tourist industries, which in turn form crucial arenas of public culture where embodied notions of identity are sold, enacted, and debated. Gathering together written accounts, postcards, photographs, advertisements, films, and oral histories as well as her own interpretations of these displays, Desmond gives us a vibrant account of U.S. tourism in Waikiki from 1900 to the present. She then juxtaposes cultural tourism with "animal tourism" in the United States, which takes place at zoos, aquariums, and animal theme parks. In each case, Desmond argues, the relationship between the viewer and the viewed is ultimately based on concepts of physical difference harking back to the nineteenth century.
The American Society of Animal Science has recently focused its attention on a variety of contentious issues in animal agriculture. This paper deals with critique, a philosophical approach to analyzing and understanding issues. This method has been employed by various contemporary philosophers. For example, feminist theorists have used this approach to critically analyze sexual harassment. Critique involves a critical analysis of the discourse (ideas or language) and practices that define the social reality in which we live. How we think about the world and how we behave in it determines how we humans interact with each other as well as with the rest of nature. This social structure is associated with power structures that benefit some individuals and harm others. In this paper, I demonstrate how critique can be used to better understand the social reality of animal agriculture. By analyzing certain popular texts in this field, I show that a "mechanical view of nature" is dominant in animal agriculture and argue that such a view contributes to a social reality that can be harmful to some humans and other animals. I conclude that various contentious issues can be better addressed when we engage in a critical analysis of this conceptual framework and base our analysis on the experiences of many different people, including those who have been harmed by our current system of animal agriculture.
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