Agency, Domination, and Resistance: Animal Rights in an Unjust World (MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory)

September 9, 2020 - September 11, 2020

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University of Berne
Wageningen University and Research
University of Sheffield
University of California, San Diego
Wageningen University and Research
Loughborough University
University of Roehampton
Queen's University


Wageningen University and Research
Loughborough University
University of Roehampton

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Since at least the 1970s, ethicists have taken seriously questions about the moral status of animals, and, since at least the 1980s, ethicists have taken seriously the possibility that animals have rights. In the 2000s and especially 2010s, however, philosophers and political theorists have started to ask recognisably political questions about human relationships with animals. Some of the new questions asked by this literature concern the agency of animals: how they do exercise it in an unjust world, and how they could exercise it in a just world; but also what kinds of agency (if any) animals can exercise, and what the normative significance (if any) of such exercise is.

These questions are given further relevance by the fact that in biology and ethology new studies about animal languages, cultures, cognition, and emotion are published weekly, showing that animals’ inner lives and social relations are more complex than previously assumed. They are furthermore especially urgent because we live in an age in which humans increasingly dominate the lives of large numbers of other animals.

At this workshop we will try to get to the bottom of such questions, which we believe underlie many of the most interesting issues currently explored by political philosophers and political theorists addressing animals: the political representation and voice of animals; animals as labourers and workers; animals as citizens or members of our political communities; animals as property and/or holders of property; differences (if any) between ‘wild’ and ‘domestic’ animals; real-world versus ideal-world theorising about animals; and more.

Bringing together scholars with a stake in the question of animal agency and those who are only beginning to address the issue, this workshop will ask questions including, but not limited to:

  • What is the nature and normative significance of animal agency? Are animals political agents? Moral agents? ‘Linguistic’ agents?

  • What does it mean to oppress and dominate animals? Are all instances of oppression and domination problematic? Do they all violate rights? Are they all harmful?

  • Do animals resist? What is the normative significance of this? Can and should humans resist on their behalf (or with them)? How can humans resist?

  • Can animals exercise political agency? How can and should animals’ voices be heard in democratic politics, if at all? How can and should their perspectives and/or interests be represented?

  • Do animals’ capacities of agency, if any, afford them new rights? To property? Democratic representation? Control over their own lives and spaces?

  • What does animal agency mean for the roles that animals do and could play? For working animals? For companions? What normative significance might the agency of wild animals possess?

Convenors: Angie Pepper (University of Roehampton); Eva Meijer (Wageningen University & Research); Josh Milburn (University of Sheffield).

Confirmed speakers: Alasdair Cochrane (University of Sheffield); Andy Lamey (University of California, San Diego); Bernice Bovenkerk (Wageningen University & Research); Charlotte Blattner (Harvard Law School); Steve Cooke (University of Leicester); Zipporah Weisberg (Independent)

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August 1, 2020, 5:00am BST

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