A political theory of animal rights

after Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

I. Non-human animals as political actors

Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka wrote a remarkable book of political philosophy, called “Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights”. In the introduction of the book, the authors argue that after 180 years of organized animal advocacy, no demonstrable progress has been made to dismantle the system of animal exploita­tion. This statement is not meant to discredit the valuable work activists and advocates have done. It is meant to point out that the social, legal, and political structures responsible have remained intact. They propose a different path for animal advocacy, a future where other animals are not only protected, but enabled to shape society as well. Their work describes a picture of what a multispecies just society could look like. To better understand their proposal and how it is different, we first need to see what has been done until now, and in what ways it hasn’t worked.

According to their view, the failure to dismantle the larger system of animal exploitation is a result of the three predominant ways in which animal issues are debated in public. Most of the discussions come from a welfarist, ecological, or basic rights approach (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2011).

First, by ‘welfarist’ they mean a view that opposes certain forms of cruelty, yet which takes for granted that other animals can be used for human interests, if it's done within certain limits. Welfarism can be identified by its principle of ‘humane use’. It aims to reduce, what it claims to be, 'unnecessary harm' to which non-human animals are subjected. However, it leaves intact the larger structures of domination and exploitation. The 'welfarist' approach supports a clear moral hierarchy in which humans stand above. It does not question whether humans should use other animals, but how they should use them in a 'humane' way.

Second, the ‘ecological’ approach. This view implies a focus on the health of ecosystems. Like welfarism, this approach can be critical of certain human practices. But it also ends up favoring conservation and restoration initiatives that support killing individuals of non-endangered species. After all, its goal is to achieve a holistic vision of a so-called ‘natural' and 'sustainable' ecosystem, not to give equal consideration to all individuals.

The authors point out that, in light of these limitations, many activists and advocates have supported a third approach. An ‘animal rights’ framework considers other animals, like humans, individual beings. They should have a right not to be tortured, imprisoned, or experimented on. And, like humans, they shouldn't be sepa­rated from their families, killed for "eating too many rare orchids" (p. 4), or for altering the so-called Nature. Donaldson and Kymlicka accept the core premise of this approach. In their view, inviolable rights, such as the right not to be owned, killed, confined, or tortured are the only truly effective protections that take into account individual animals. Inviolable rights simply imply that an individual cannot be sacrificed for the "greater good" of others, a view that is well established when it comes to humans. However, the authors don't stop here. Their goal is to challenge particular ideas coming from animal rights theory. 

The authors identify two main paths in animal rights literature that aim to address the mistreatment of domesticated animals: a threshold approach and an abolitionist approach, which they also call extinctionist (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2011).

The 'threshold' approach seeks to "define certain thresholds for allow­able 'uses' of domesticated animals, while prohibiting their 'exploitation" (p. 89). The worries that come with this approach are easy to spot. Although, in principle, Donaldson and Kymlicka do not rule out the possibility of drawing a line between permissible and impermissible instrumental relationships entirely, they argue that these views end up offering weak safeguards. The 'threshold' approach can easily reproduce relations of exploitation while allowing for various violations of rights. It can institutionalize a subordinate status to domesticated animals and "become a pretext for ongoing exploitation" (p. 95) as we've seen with welfarism. This is why many have supported an abolitionist approach.

Portraits - Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

[Image Description: Portraits of Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka drawn with white lines on a black background. Donaldson is smiling, she is a woman with mid-length hair with bangs and eyeglasses, Kymlicka is a man, possibly smiling under his mustache, his big kind eyes looking at the viewer and his short hair barely moved by the wind. They are surrounded by 8 birds drawn in pink, pigeons and crows between them, there are structures of fences, bridges, and one rope on which 2 mice play, drawn in yellow.]

Abolitionism seeks to tackle the relationship of domination directly. It proposes that we "remove ourselves from the equation... as owners, overlords, stewards" (p. 78) by ending our use of domesticated animals. Abolitionism sees the history of domestication as a violent process, a process in which humans have forcibly enslaved and bred non-human animals for centuries. Its purpose was to transform different animals into docile, compliant, and dependent beings that can please a variety of human interests and whims. For this reason, many abolitionists seek an end to our interactions with domesticated animals and a future without them. Donaldson and Kymlicka agree that the history of domestication is "a story of ever-intensifying degrees of enslavement, abuse, exploitation, and murder" (p. 76). They too think that justice requires abolishing the system of animal exploitation that breeds non-human animals to life for human use. However, they disagree about what our future should look like. In their view, it is wrong to assume that to make things just we need to end all our interactions with domesticated animals and create a future in which they are no longer born. 

The authors argue that many abolitionists assume humans can eventually inhabit a separate space from other animals and that potential con­flict could be eliminated in this way. Because of this, they claim, abolitionism avoids addressing the relational obligations that we have towards other animals. So, they criticize it on this basis. Interactions between human and non-human animals are simply inevitable. We share our spaces with innumerable animals. They will continue to exist even if humans no longer cap­ture, enslave, and breed animals for their own interests. Sparrows, squirrels, bats, mice, and countless others, will live on and cohabit with humans in shared spaces. That is because humans do not exist outside of Nature and many non-human animals have adapted to live around various human settlements. A complete separation from other animals is impossible. This is one of the reasons why humans cannot ignore their positive and relational obligations towards them. Another reason is our history. We are responsible for the future that domesticated animals have, because they were forcibly brought into our society and are deprived of other possible forms of existence. Humans cannot keep ignoring their right to have a say, to be consulted, or to shape collective decisions (Kymnlicka and Donaldson, 2016). 

Abolitionism, they argue, fails to conceive good lives for domesticated animals and it ignores the many liminal animals that live among us. Although it responds in a meaningful way against welfarism and it raises important issues, it also raises serious questions. Just think of the massive biopolitical control needed for this approach to succeed structurally. This might well imply coercion, confinement, and separation from their families. It raises serious questions about bodily integrity. And it can easily violate all sorts of basic liberties to achieve its end goal. Donaldson and Kymlicka agree that we need to stop breeding domesticated animals, but we should also limit our intervention upon their bodies. The aim is to expand their liberties and choices so that they can end up deciding on their own. Their goal isn't to breed domesticated animals out of existence because they have lost their 'natural features' or because they are dependent on humans or on social and material structures in which humans belong. Drawing from disability justice and feminist critiques, they argue that "[d]ependency doesn't intrinsically involve a loss of dignity" (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2011, p. 84). The problem is how we respond to it. "Dependency, though highly variable, is an inescapable fact of life for us all. Indignity does not arise from this fact. Indignity arises when our needs are belittled, exploited, and/or unmet by those who should know better" (p. 84). Dependency, in their view, is not the opposite of independence, but a precursor to autonomy. Thus, it's the society in which domesticated animals live that should adapt to their needs, it's not their state that is undignified.

Abolitionism - A political theory of animal rights - after Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

[Image Description: In the left corner, a powerful hand drawn in white lines on a black background holds a red seal with which to imprint farmed animals. Below it, there are many cluttered, distressed, angry and sad cows, drawn in white lines, with red ear tags with numbers on them. In the back, top of the image, they fade away into the background.]

For Donaldson and Kymlicka, the two approaches we have just described aren't sufficiently serious about our ongoing obligations towards domesticated animals. In their view, these views don't consider domesticated animals as agents, but as voiceless beings for which humans need to decide what's good and bad. The authors oppose this. They oppose seeing other animals as moral patients in which humans decide on their behalf, and for their future. Instead, they claim that non-human animals need to be recognized as political actors. Domesticated animals live among us. Their labor and bodies helped build the societies we live in. They have as much a right to be here as everyone else. Donaldson and Kymlicka oppose the 'capacity contract'. According to this view, political membership should be restricted to neurotypical individuals with sophisticated cognitive and linguistic capacities that actively engage in a process of rational deliberation. The authors argue instead to start from a 'social membership model'. Such a model is committed to "enable all members of society to participate in processes of self-governing" (Kymlicka and Donaldson, 2016, p. 698). Their interests need to be reflected in the social, legal, and political structures that affect them. Domesticated animals are entitled to proper care and infrastructure. Thus, the authors argue for citizenship.

Citizenship can offer three crucial elements for domesticated animals: residency, inclusion, and agency (Donaldson and Kymlicka, 2011). Residency means that this is their home, they belong here among us. Inclusion is about their interests as sovereign individuals able to determine the public good. And lastly, agency is about having the ability to shape the very rules of interaction. Citizenship can work for  domesticated animals, because the model was never solely about the ability to vote on a piece of paper or argue rationally about elections. Donaldson and Kymlicka show us that it is a much richer notion, and it is closely tied with social membership. 

Residency, inclusion, and agency - after Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

[Image Description: A visual depiction of theoretical concepts written on boards. In white, up the scene and from left to right, the three main approaches written are “welfarism”(on a wooden board), “ecological”(written on a rock) and “basic rights”(written on a flag). From basic rights, there are three arrows towards the “threshold” approach (in orange), “abolitionism”(in red), and “citizenship theory”(depicted in pink). From the citizenship theory board there are three other boards, arranged in a horizontal line, from left to right spelling:“residency”, “inclusion”, “agency” also in pink.]

Zoopolis tells us that our public responsibilities towards domestic animals are much bigger than just leaving them alone, or working towards a future without them. One question we need to start asking seriously is how they "want public power to be exercised so as to reshape society to better suit their interests" (Kymlicka, 2017, p. 180). After all, it has been well documented that non-human animals have complex social hierarchies. They make group decisions about when and where to move. They even vote with their feet or by standing up. However, politics isn't about voting. We all know that such a view is quite narrow. There's no reason to think that other animals wouldn't co-shape our interaction given the proper chance and without being silenced as a political group. Many acts are political. Humans too engage in various political acts beyond voting. Destroying private property, working in another country because of poor living conditions, or forming communities of resistance, all of these acts are political.  

Traditional animal rights theory has criticized again and again the treatment of other animals in our societies, from factory farms to zoos and labs. And to date, we have an enormous, rich literature about how non-human animals shouldn’t be treated. (Festival végane de Montréal, 2018) However, Donaldson and Kymlicka tell us that animal rights theory has said little about how we should relate with other animals.

What kind of relations do other animals want to have with us? 

This question, though so simple to raise and so important to ask, hasn’t been addressed much. In order to have an answer to this question we need to change the environment in which other animals live. Changing their social and material conditions can ensure that they too can actively choose what kind of lives to have. To know what relations non-human animals want to have with us, we need to allow and help create intentional interspecies communities. That is to say, spaces in which domesticated animals can choose when, how, and on what terms they want to engage with humans.

Membership model - A political theory of animal rights - after Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

[Image Description: A multispecies post-industrial scene is depicted in white, pink, and yellow lines over a black background. In the right corner, a human person with a hat and boots is pushing a pink cart with haystacks. On top of the cart, there's a chicken with golden feathers. In the left corner, a pig is happily drinking from a small puddle. In the distance before the buildings, there are two hens on the left and another one on the right and buildings repurposed, as you can see a “Zoo” sign falling.]

II. Domestic, wild and liminal animals

The freedom of those that run needs the earth, like the freedom of those that fly needs the sky. What do pigeons want, what do squirrels, chickens or bears desire? Food, water, companionship, yes. What kind of space do they need? Does anyone want us around, maybe? To know, to really know, we should explore in such a way that they’re allowed to answer. 

In Zoopolis, the animals are thought of in three categories, trying to stay true to their differential needs based on their relations and interests. The categories,  wild, liminal and domestic, are not static - animals of any species might wonder from one to the other given their particular life circumstances. In general, however, the three categories consider what possible interests might animals have and what relationships with human communities might benefit them. Wild animals, those that are free-roaming, such as foxes, lions and beavers, might want nothing to do with humans, and prefer distance from us - thus, they should be afforded sovereignty over their territories, which are not to be taken over for human interests. Domesticated animals, given their history of exploitation and, most often, dependence to humans and their social communities, should benefit from protection and care if they wish so, and be able to choose what sort of life to live - to be co-citizens of a multispecies society they helped build, or to be free from human involvement, choosing another territory. One of the advantages of this model is that it clearly names another category that was previously invisibilized and overlooked, a category that did not fit into the wild/domesticated dualism. Liminal animals, such as crows, pigeons, squirrels, coyotes, depend on human settlements, but usually not on specific relations with humans. Their place in Zoopolis is one of residents, not of citizens. Why so? Because citizenship requires some duties of socialization which liminal animals might not be interested in at all. Let’s think through  this. 

Think of a calf. Not just any calf, but one with a name, not just a human name, but a name from their mother, too. All animals learn life skills from their mothers, if they are allowed to. And if they’re allowed, they learn from many more individuals. In farmed animal sanctuaries, for example, elder cows teach the young ones the rules and the manners of their pasture - there’s no need for humans to do it. Socialization is a process through which all social animals go through, and sometimes this socialization is between different species, which is to say, interspecific or interspecies. In the case of domesticated animals who are viewed as co-citizens, they have a right to residency, they’re part of the public, thus they should be supported in manifesting their preferences, and exercising their political agency to shape society. What might this look like? For example, cows might signal their desire to live in a different pasture, might be able to choose to intermingle with humans or slowly retreat from human society. Attention to their needs can teach us what they want, just like attention to dogs’ needs teaches us that some dogs like running a lot, and others like staying indoors. In the model that Donaldson and Kymlicka are proposing, domesticated animals have a right to shape their interactions with humans by choosing for themselves what kind of relations they want to have with us, and humans have a duty to acknowledge this politically without denying their freedoms. 

So did you know crows remember humans who wronged them? Not that the capacity to remember should grant rights, but it’s good to know. For liminal animals such as crows, typically considered “wild”, but who live and thrive in human settlements, Zoopolis proposes a form of protection called denizenship, for its minimal intervention in comparison to citizenship. Crows, ferrets, sparrows and other liminal animals have a right of residency, but based on their interests in cooperating with human society, they are required less, as they probably don’t want to engage as much as domesticated animals. The flexibility of these categories based on situation and interests, their strong protections in terms of a right to life, and their proposal for positive rights are just some of the things that make them so useful to think with. For example, this crow, considered liminal, if injured and rescued, might wish to become closer to the humans who cared for her. Or she might not. Either way, her wish could be respected, and her voice would count. 

Now think of a bear. A bear in the forests of Eastern Europe, diminishing forests, some that are being restored, some not. For wild animals, the authors propose a framework of sovereignty, in the sense of a claim over territory, a right to live their own lives away from foreign rule. Sovereignty, as a political tool, would protect wild animals from particular injustices, such as human encroachment over their lands. In the case of the bear, their forests have been cut and sold, their food sources diminished. If sovereignty is recognized, not only such plunder is not possible anymore, but compensation is necessary. Yet what about the fawn, whose life might be ended by the bear? According to the authors, this unfortunate death is not a result of social injustice, but rather a feature of ecosystems. Animals have various skills that allow them to survive, and to act as if they didn’t, intervening in all of their relationships to control them, cannot be just. Their wild, sovereign territories, shouldn’t be seen as “failed states”, because violence exists, to different degrees, in all states, and this does not warrant foreign involvement automatically. Moreover, sovereignty for wild animals should account for mobility, ecological viability, the multiple dimensions of territory, and the many possibilities we might have for cohabitation.

Wild, liminal and domestic - after Sue Donaldson & Will Kymlicka

[Image Description: An aerial view over a city and its surrounding forests and rivers. The center of the city is drawn in pink, and a board stands in it, writing “Domestic”. The margins of the city, but also some elements within it, are made of fields and trees drawn in yellow, with a board that says “Liminal”. At the edges of the picture there are trees and rivers, with a board that says “Wild”, colored green. Yellow birds fly all over the sky, drawn in simple lines]

III. But are rights the right way?

The paradigm of rights has received critique for various reasons. Rights are criticized for being too anthropocentric, too focused on individual liberties, or for giving too much legitimacy to state power. Such critiques have legitimate worries. We agree with many points they make. However, some of the raised critiques are shared by people who are overly suspicious about the rights of other animals, instead of their own rights and privileges. Some of these critiques lack substantial alternatives and give no practical ways to protect non-human animals. They leave a system that constantly profits from their death, labour, and bodies to be addressed in a better future. Because of this, we think it is imperative to draw a difference between rights that guarantee the liberties of powerful actors at the expense of those who are marginalized and rights that limit the liberties of the powerful to guarantee participation for the marginalized. Without specifying what we mean by rights, we risk losing the opportunity of being tactical and critical. Are we talking about negative rights or rights that apply to members of a certain community? And who benefits from the kind of liberties that are privileged or restrained? For example, animal rights can directly tackle property rights, and can be used to disrupt and disarm human supremacy, to some degree. Some rights can ensure that the animals who are now suffering the most in our society can have other lives. Inviolable rights for example can directly challenge the animal industrial complex, and guarantee that other animals are no longer bred to be disabled, and then dismembered for capitalist and human interests. Positive rights, on the other hand, aim for a future in which other animals have space, mobility, and the opportunity to act and decide the kind of lives they want to have. Of course, we need to question how rights are assigned in the first place. How sovereignty appears and is determined. After all, it's certain rights that we are opposing. Yet, disqualifying the rights that are aimed to protect marginalized individuals without guaranteeing better protections in exchange is dangerous, not to say, irresponsible, within the current system. So, regardless of how our society is organized now, we need to look for all the ways we can find to ensure that risks and benefits are shared equally between all its members. Rights can potentially ensure that the lives, views, and needs of other animals matter, and that they matter now, not in an ideal future.

But are rights the right way

[Image Description: The image is separated in two sections. On the left, it has a board saying “Right to property” in bright red and it depicts an enclosed pool with yellow plants and with humans swimming in it surrounded by other objects like a chair and swimming coils while a mother pig, a piglet, and a dog are outside the fence, looking in longingly. On the right side, the board says “Right to clean water” in bright teal, and it depicts a clean lake with green plants, a human standing by the side, feet in the water, a duck, two pigs swimming in it, and a dog drinking from it, as well as a cow just resting nearby before a dissipating forest.]

IV. Some issues with Zoopolis

Since its publication in 2011, Zoopolis has ignited a lot of discussions, explorations and critiques. We can begin this discussion with a few questions that always pop-up, some of which have been addressed. We’ll think of them in two bundles: the critique of animal rights bundle, and the critique of Zoopolis and liberal theory bundle. One might say, wait, rights are embedded within liberal theory, so why make two bundles? The reason here is because many authors have argued for animal rights, and there are many answers to these questions already. However, the theory proposed here has a distinct view of animal rights, arguing they should function within the liberal framework we already live in, being composed of membership rights that work through citizenship. 

So, bundle number one: some issues with animal rights. Let’s take three.


 [Image Description: In the center there is an open book that is drawn in white, pink, and green lines over a black background. Two arrows leading to the words “Rights?” to the left and “Liberal theory? to the right” stem from it.]

One, animal rights as anthropocentric

This appears quite often and, historically, it's been a bit of an issue since advocates and theorists have often argued for rights precisely for those animals that are more like humans, for example, great apes (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2018). However, we can draw a distinction between anthropocentrism as our inescapable position - we inherited specific characteristics and cultures as Homo sapiens and thus inhabit a certain position among other species - and anthropocentrism as an intentional (or sometimes unintentional) hierarchical social system of values that is held up to privilege humans. While the first, our position, can hardly be ignored, the second, our values, can be informed by other ways of seeing, especially given that humans are different between themselves and live in many different entanglements with the more-than-human world. In Zoopolis, there is the added issue that specific rights - membership rights as citizens - can be seen as enforcing certain rules on animals. This is something to be explored, indeed. However, given how many restrictions and acts of violence our current system imposes on animals, it would be a step forward, for sure. A particular view of Zoopolis might argue that the freedom it can bring can inform us better regarding what animals want and, thus, correct our anthropocentrism.

Animal Rights as anthropocentric

 [Image Description: Written at the top: “One: Animal Rights as Anthropocentric”. Drawn in white, two human male portraits facing each other. On the left side, the human only has eyes and a nose, and underneath them is written: “An epistemological problem” in teal. On the right side, the human only has a mouth, and underneath them is written “An ideological problem” in pink. Both are surrounded by teal and pink elliptical lines, the one from left has green dots and curvy lines around him, and the one from right has bubble chats with different marks, like x, a triangle, square and short lines.]

Two, animal rights as Western cultural imperialism

To tackle this, we need to take a step back and remember how the massive scale of animal exploitation came about. Let’s see, it was through colonial invasion, stealing of indigenous lands, intensification of agriculture and capitalist growth. So, actually, seeing other animals as property for consumption or profit is a form of globalization and imperialism that erases the complex histories of other relations with them.  Arguing that valuing animal lives, or advocating veganism, is Western imperialism, is in fact ignoring the many philosophies of non-violence, traditions of plant-based diets and ways of resistance to anthropocentrism that exist throughout many cultures (Deckha, 2018). However, we must pay attention to how the cause for animal rights, or more often, animal welfare, is deployed politically, because there are moments when it is used instrumentally to reaffirm a sense of superiority over other cultures (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2014). This happens when, for example, there is a  singling out of minority cultural or religious practices, instead of a broad resistance to all animal killing. If we look closely, though, we see how focusing on minority practices is not consistent with universal animal rights, because it leaves the majority - the animal industrial complex - off the hook. All animals have the right to live, and a post-colonial, anti-racist animal rights movement with “a Multicultural Zoopolis agenda would decenter and denaturalize majority practices, open up space for cross-cultural learning and guard against the instrumentalization of progressive causes.” (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2014, p. 129)

Animal Rights as Western cultural imperialism

[Image Description: Written at the top: “Two: Animal rights as western cultural imperialism.”. On the left side of the image, there are concentric circles drawn in yellow and red. The first circle, the smallest, yellow, has “Agricultural Revolution” written around it, growing in size from there, the second writes “Colonization and Industrialization”, the third which is red has “Capitalist Globalization in the inside of the circle” and “The animal industrial complex” on the outside of the circle. Within it, there are small circles scattered in green lines, one has a mark of “Hunter-Gatherers” written in circle shape. A pincher is on the right side, slicing the last, third, biggest circle.]

Three, animal rights as empty formalities

Well, that’s partly true, right? But who imagines just words on papers have power, if no one upholds it? It is through political struggle that rights become words on paper, and it is through political struggle that they become much more than that (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2018). If we look back in history, political struggles did make life easier, or at least less dangerous, for many people that have been oppressed - that’s not because rights magically manifested, but because there was resistance and that made some kind of progress. And while it is often the oppressed themselves that organize for their own liberation, it must not be necessarily so - think of the movement to ban children’s labour. Our movements are already interconnected, the struggle of other animals is part of them. Let’s not forget that they, too, resist their oppression, they run from farms or attack the humans who hurt them. Animal rights is one part of the fight for social justice, it’s a formal recognition that requires real organization behind it not only to make it work, but to make it real and substantive.

Animal Rights as empty formalities

[Image Description: Written at the top: “Three: Animal rights as empty formalities”. In white lines, a human hand with green, pink and yellow fingernails, is drawn holding up a paper with many imprints on it: a goose's foot, a dog’s paw, a bear’s paw, a chicken’s, a goat’s, a frogs’ and so on, depicting the animals from the three categories domesticated which are in pink lines, liminal in yellow and wild in green-teal. The hand and paper are surrounded both sides left to right with white question marks of different sizes.]

There is a valid danger that some forms of recognition, or of reform, do not go towards liberation, but rather hinder it. Is it even possible to have these rights, one might ask, in the current economic system? This leads us to critique bundle number two: some issues with liberal political theory. Let’s go with three here as well.

One, the debate about bounded communities

It is argued that a model of rights based on nation-state citizenship runs into the same dangers that already exists in global geopolitics. Such bounded communities might work if there was no material inequality and if there was freedom of movement, but this is not the current case. Simply put “When we dream of the future, we do not need to remain committed to the nation-state” (Wadiwel & Taylor, 2016, p. 86). So why do it? Donaldson & Kymlicka (2013) argue that there is legitimate interest in a right to place and to self-governance in both the human and nonhuman case. Having bounded communities can help maintain autonomy, especially from foreign control or invasion. In the case of some wild animals, whose habitats are being destroyed, the right to place is essential, especially given that some can only survive in specific ecological niches. While there are still ideas left to explore here, as it’s such a complex issue - let’s go to the next one, that is quite deeply related.

The debate about bounded communities

[Image Description: Written at the top: “One: The debate about bounded communities”. In white lines on a black background, a forest is drawn. In the middle of the scene there’s a road leading to the inside of the forest and above it from a branch, there’s a sign that shows a “No” in yellow, and a drawn human foot has an “x” in a circle over them.]

Two, the complexities of sovereignty

Sovereignty is a disputed term. Some make use of it, arguing it is needed to claim a right to self-governance, others refute it, claiming it is a particular, violent form of governance over others. For example, Dinesh Wadiwel (2013) critiques Zoopolis for not fully questioning who holds the power to decide and relegate citizenship to other animals - it is humans, indeed. Donaldson & Kymlicka (2013) respond that they very well know this, and it is precisely because humans hold so much power that it cannot be ignored. They argue that there is no world without power, and this is precisely the political question: “how relations of power can be held accountable to norms of justice” (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2013, p. 770). Recognizing other animals as part of the political realm is part of this, but so is paying attention to what forms of power this recognition legitimates. How can settler colonial states, for example, be held accountable for their histories, if certain forms of settler sovereignty continue? (Belcourt, 2015) While there are many sources of conflict between indigenous and animal causes, there are also plenty of reasons for alliances (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2015). Some scholars argue that indigenous cosmologies and legal orders do recognize other animals (Deckha, 2020), both their personhood and their political agency, and that decolonization asks for the liberation of both (Belcourt, 2015).

The complexities of sovereignity

[Image Description: Written at the top: “Two, the complexities of sovereignty”. In white lines on a black background, a judge’s gavel is standing, almost reaching a conclusion and about to tap. Next to it, on the right, a cute-looking cat with yellow eyes and dotted coat turns her head to the viewer.]

Three, the problems with the liberal state

We circle back. Why imagine the future just like the present, why keep the structure of the nation state? Why think with this precise political system to recognize animals, and not wonder about others, such as “Habermasian postnationalism, Marxist internationalism, Anarchist confederalism, world-government theories, and anti-racist no-border activism?” (Svärd, 2013, p. 8). Well, first things first, even if these might be better alternatives, it doesn’t diminish “the duty of justice to include animals” within the current framework (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2013). While imperfect, the liberal framework offers some benefits, such as individual inviolable rights - and we well know that these can be of great help for animals, who, when not killed for profit, might still be killed for the “greater good”. For an example, citizenship rights for domesticated animals can help us remedy the injustice we have done to them, by recognizing them as members of our society and offering proper care and freedom. Other, future political orders might hold better lives for all of us, but “No one should have to wait for a revolution before they have rights” (Donaldson in Wadiwel, 2014, p. 4).

Problems with the liberal state

[Image Description: Written at the top: “Three, the problems with the liberal state”. A road is drawn with many boards on it. Starting from the back left corner, the first wooden boards are “Bodily Autonomy” and “Physical Mobility”, with text written in teal, after that, there are “Medical Care”, in yellow that reaches the right side of the scene and moving closer to the viewer, also in yellow “Public Spaces”, and “Participation”, on which a singing chicken is standing. The last board and the biggest is “Revolution” drawn in pink with white accents and confetti and leaves flying around.]

V. A view from a multispecies future

Can you hear them? My neighbours. I live in the bird side of town. Sounds a bit funny, doesn’t it? But I love it. There are so many birds, you cannot imagine! Pigeons, crows, sparrows, even some great tits! I learned their species one by one, and then their names, for some. One likes to come by my window a lot, I call them ALF, and they come a bit closer for snacks. They get along well with SHAC, our resident cat, he’s a chunky ball of orange fluff. Our side of town is actually off-limits to stranger cats, but some cats like birds a lot, like me, and they protect them from other cats. My parents, Genie and I, we’re responsible for the avian loft of this block, and even though it’s a bit of work, I like it because I’m making lots of friends. The other side of town has cats free-roaming, but also spaces for pigs, goats, sheep and horses, just on the outskirts. I adore them all! Not all my friends do, but anyway, there’s some parks just for certain species, so everyone can be happy. Mum says that’s a new thing, before there were cars and car parks, just big pieces of hot ugly metal resting in all our public spaces. Sometimes I can’t believe how people were in the past. It was only two generations ago that many of my friends would have been imprisoned, killed, and tortured. You’d think they wouldn’t kill pigeons too, what for, right? But they didn’t like their poop on buildings. Well, I would have pooped on all of their buildings just to spite them! Somedays I really cannot believe all of this happened. Auntie says mum told me the truth too early, that I’m too young, and it will affect me. I hope it does! I never want to see my friends killed. I won’t allow it. I can’t even believe I would have had the power to decide such a thing, long ago. What friendship could that have even been? 

A - A view from a multispecies society - just wondering

[Image Description: An open window sill is drawn in white over a black background. Front view to the right, there is a fluffy orange cat and a green great tit to the left. On the windows, there are recipients for water and food. Out the window, there are many many birds drawn in white lines and apartment blocks for humans and pigeons lofts.]

I’m going out now, schools’ out in the pastures today. Just the lower pastures, where cows know humans always come. I’m starting to get to know one of them, I haven’t given her a name yet, but I don’t think she wants one from me. She’s got such a personality, she always approaches first! The other great thing about outside school is that there’s less homework and more fun. Just as it should be. Some dogs go to school too, but only the ones that want to, they learn stuff like how to help people in need. Hi hi, I wish we could only go to school if we wanted to! Hey, maybe it’ll be true in the future. Maybe it’ll be true when they’ll take apart those ugly highways and the huge airports and we’ll have more space for all of us to really live and relax and play, and land for food, land for farmers. And good pay, so dad doesn’t have to go away. And no one will ever kill anyone in the name of conservation anymore, they won’t even argue. Maybe then. Maybe it’ll be me, part of my generation, to make it happen. ALF, SHAC and I. We’ll see this through.

B - A view from a multispecies society - just wondering

[Image Description: A big field with many beings flying and walking and running is drawn in white lines over a black background. In the front, the left side of the scene, there is a calf and a young human child sitting, looking at a tiny, green great tit and an orange-yellow fluffy cat. On the right side, there is another human playing with a dog. Around them, there are books and balls, and other objects to play with or learn from. In the far distance, cows are grazing peacefully. In the back distance there are mountains and birds flying.]


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Written by M. Martelli & Aron Nor

Recorded by M. Martelli & Aron Nor 

Illustrations made by Mina Mimosa 

Directed & Edited by Aron Nor