Vii issue 1 2009 Journal for Critical Animal Studies

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Rituals of dominionism are social rituals articulating human domination of other humans, other animals, and nature as a general category. Such rituals involving and incorporating nonhuman animals are widespread and sedimented in society by centuries of philosophical and theological thought, and by routine social practices – I have said nothing in this article about the fact that most humans eat other animals and wrap up their own bodies in the skins of others. This paper has been restricted to perhaps “lesser” forms of normative rituals in certain cultures. As Mason (2005: 268) points out, there are dozens more reaffirming the inferiority of nonhuman animals and human groups. By such means we bring meaning to our lives as we generationally transmit values through human societies. In terms of human-nonhuman relations, societies are deeply speciesist, literally saturated in core speciesist norms. These are the powerful social forces that animal advocates must fundamentally challenge if real change is ever to occur. In this light, campaigning — especially single-issue campaigning — that fails to directly challenge speciesist rituals of dominionism, including pet-keeping, and which does not posit ethical veganism as the solution in an unequivocal manner, is essentially tinkering at the edges of the problem. As suggested in this paper, then, speciesist and other harmful rituals of dominionism are deeply embedded in the very structure of society: these are core societal values and motors which need dismantling completely. Reforming such sedimented means of discrimination and oppression is not enough and, as I have long argued (see Yates 1999: 16-17), social movements, as important claims-makers in civil society, need to regularly audit their campaigning methods and effects, and adopt a mature, reflexive, stance at all times. The changes nonhuman animals need are cultural, for it is widespread and mundane cultural activities, along with taught values and attitudes, that bring billions of them into existence for the purpose of exploitation. Social change occurs all the time and, therefore, change is possible but much more likely when more and more animal advocates and activists attack the core of the problem. Their task is aided by a sociological understanding of the social forces at play, identifying the factors at the heart of the issue, such as that offered in this paper.

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