Spécisme et Autres Discriminations / Speciesism and Other Discriminations, Online, Aug. 30-31, 2021

On August 31, I will make a presentation in this two-day free online conference, postponed from last year due to the pandemic, which is organized by Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ) and Groupe de recherche en éthique environnementale et animale (GRÉEA). My presentation, which is entitled “Ableism, Animals, and Apparatuses,” will be part of a panel on Specieism and Ableism.

Register for the conference here: https://umontreal.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIkc-irrz0vE9S2yi4VaJHE2O4Wb-_dJorl

The conference program and abstracts are copied below.

Monday, August 30th

9:00 Welcoming remarks – Kristin Voigt (McGill, Responsible of GRÉEA and co-director of the axis Éthique environnementale et animale, at CRÉ).

9:15– 12:00 am


Co-organizers: Kristin Voigt (McGill) and Natalie Stoljar (McGill)

While the precise definitions of speciesism, racism, ableism, etc. are contentious, they are often considered forms of oppression and as indicators of structural inequality and injustice. This panel will seek to advance the debate by exploring a number of conceptual questions about oppression, structural injustice and discrimination, and the connections between them.

Possible questions to be addressed include:

  • What is oppression? Is there a core feature of oppression that is consistent across different kinds of oppression, e.g. based on gender, species membership, race, or disability status?
  • Are specific kinds of oppression — such as epistemic oppression or internalised oppression — equally relevant for these different kinds of oppression?
  • Which duties do oppression and structural inequality create, and on whom do such duties fall (e.g. on victims, bystanders, beneficiaries, etc.)?
  • What is the relationship between oppression and other cognate concepts, such as discrimination and structural injustice?
  • How do oppression and structural inequality shape individuals’ perceptions of themselves and others, as well as public discourses? Given the persistent and damaging effects that oppression has on individuals, which tools are available for addressing it?

Amandine Catala (UQÀM) -« Epistemic Injustice, Intersectionality, and Autism »;
Natalie Stoljar (McGill) -Oppression and nonhuman animals (brief remarks) »;
Benjamin Eidelson (Harvard Law) – « Nonhuman Animals and the Concept of Discrimination ».

1:00 – 4:30 pm


Co-organizers: Naïma Hamrouni (UQTR), Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott (U. of York) et Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert (Oxford U.)

Many women historically involved in the struggle for women’s rights were also involved in animal welfare organizations. However, some of the rhetoric historically used in feminist campaigns has assumed that the best way to combat women’s subordination was to denounce their dehumanization and animalization by claiming their membership in the dominant group of human beings, as opposed to other animals. For example, the power of complaints such as being treated “like a piece of meat”, or that those who objectify are “acting like pigs” comes from implicitly invoking a hierarchy of dignity between humans and other animals.

The emergence of this kind of rhetoric in feminist circles is perhaps not surprising. An undeniable aspect of patriarchal subordination on axes of gender, race and class has been the ‘othering’ of oppressed groups by presenting them as bestial and therefore uncivilized, undeserving of equal respect. 

For those who oppose speciesism, this raises the question of how to combat such oppressive forces without re-affirming a value hierarchy between humans and non-human animals.Many (eco)feminists are precisely opposed to emancipation strategies that are employed at the expense of marginalized and vulnerable groups of individuals, including non-human animals. This leads them to criticize, for example, the connections made between women and animals in advertising aimed at denouncing sexism, because they suggest that oppressive practices only raise a moral problem when they concern women, but not non-human animals. On the other hand, they criticize anti-speciesist campaigns that focus on the instrumentalization of women’s bodies (such as some of PETA’s animal awareness campaigns), which seem to undermine feminism. It is believed that it is more just and that it will undoubtedly be more effective to conduct these struggles against unfair privileges in a convergent, mutually reinforcing and united manner.

In this panel, the way in which the statuses human and ‘animal’ manifest under patriarchy will be explored, in particular those made by highlighting dualities associated with gendered and racialized identities (subject/object; reason/emotion; dependency/autonomy; instinct and intuition/freedom; nature/culture; vulnerability/power; biological life/biographical life; etc.), by using certain acts of language (gendered compliments or insults relating to animals) or by practices of control of the gendered body or social functions (reproduction, domestic sphere, service, healing, etc.).

Christiane Bailey (York) -« L’écoféminisme et la thèse des destins liés »;
Lauren Corman (Brock U.) -« A Gendered Rubik’s Cube: Slaughterhouse Labour, Violence, and Trauma ».

Laurie Gagnon-Bouchard (UQTR);
Angie Pepper (U. of Roehampton).

Tuesday, August 31th

9:30 – 12:00 am


Co-organizers: Luc Faucher (UQÀM) and François Jaquet (CRÉ)

Rather obviously, speciesism was originally defined by analogy with racism: while racists discriminate on the basis of race, speciesists discriminate on the basis of species. But there is more. According to its opponents, speciesism is wrong precisely for the same reason that makes racism wrong. Their argument is straightforward: racism is wrong because it involves differential treatment in the absence of a morally relevant difference; but so does speciesism; hence, speciesism is wrong too.

This analogy between speciesism and racism is of course a sensitive matter. For most of human history, it was considered acceptable to compare “racialized groups” to animals. That this is no longer the case is of course a sign of moral progress. But it also reveals the road that lies ahead of us: maybe one day “animal” will no longer be used as an insult.

In this critical context, what parallels can legitimately be drawn between speciesism and racism—what are the prospects and limits of this analogy? And what bridges can be built between the philosophical and scientific investigation of these two forms of discrimination? It is the aim of this panel to address such questions.

Dalida Awada (UdeM) -« Racisme et spécisme : bien plus qu’une analogie »;
Luc Faucher (UQÀM) -« Sans émotion: comment l’approche émotionnelle du racisme éclaire le spécisme ordinaire »;
François Jaquet (CRÉ) -« Speciesism and Tribalism: Embarrassing Origins ».

1:00 – 4:30 pm


Co-organizers: Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry (McGill) and Valéry Giroux (CRÉ)

Ableism and speciesism are two kinds of oppressive outlooks that belittle beings fallen short of the central case of a « full » moral, political and legal subject: an able-bodied and neurotypical human being. Ableism targets human beings whose bodies or mind differ from the norm, and speciesism targets non-human animals mostly because they are considered deprived of some sophisticated cognitive capacities typically associated with humanity.

At first sight, these two kinds of discriminatory outlook seem to have important commonalities, and their theorization could be informed by each other. Some could even conceive speciesism as a form of ableism. However, disability theorists and animal ethicists have not always seen eye to eye on issues of oppression and, indeed, have sometimes clashed. For instance, some disability theorists have suggested that drawing parallels between animals and disabled people may denigrate the status of vulnerable humans rather than elevate that of animals.

This panel brings together experts who would challenge this ongoing tension and seek to emphasize and learn from similarities between these two areas of study.

Shelley Tremain (BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY) – « Ableism, Animals, and Apparatuses »;
Agnes Trzak (Activist-scholar) – « Speciesism and Disability: A Story about a disabled Dog, a Duck and the Woman who Cared for Them ».

Valéry Giroux (CRÉ);
Matthew Palynchuk (McGill).


Christiane Bailey (U. York) – L’écoféminisme et la thèse des destins liés

Les écoféministes soutiennent que plusieurs formes d’oppression humaine sont liées à la domination considérée « naturellement juste » des humains sur les autres animaux. Il ne s’agit pas simplement d’affirmer que le spécisme est formellement analogue au racisme et au sexisme (comme le fait notamment Peter Singer) en ce qu’il s’agit d’une discrimination basée sur des critères moralement arbitraires. Selon les écoféministes, il n’existerait pas (ou pas seulement) des liens logiques ou formels entre le spécisme, le racisme et le sexisme, mais bien des liens très concrets, des conditions communes à la fois idéologiques, historiques et matérielles qui encouragent la domination des unes et des autres. Si la thèse des oppressions liées est convaincante, se peut-il que leur libération soit également liée ? C’est cette piste que je suivrai en m’appuyant sur l’histoire de la cause animale, sur la démographie du mouvement et sur les recherches en psychologie morale et sociale pour soutenir qu’un monde plus soucieux des animaux serait probablement un monde plus juste envers les êtres humains – et inversement. 

Lauren Corman (Brock U.) – A Gendered Rubik’s Cube: Slaughterhouse Labour, Violence, and Trauma 

This paper explores gendered violence and industrialized slaughterhouse labour in North America. Here I trace myriad ways slaughterhouses are gendered and gendering sites, in which kill floor labour is overwhelmingly dominated by men who must perform routinized violence against animals for their work. Over the past two decades, the psychological toll of this employment has gained some impactful academic attention, with an emerging literature on PTSD and PITS (Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress) and meatpacking. From gendered labour segregation within packing plants, workplace sexual harassment, and documented “spillover” effects related to not only increased overall crime, but also to increased violent crime and sexual crime in surrounding communities, gender is an important dynamic in understanding slaughterhouse operations and their social effects. I argue that gender in this context is fused with imbricated legacies of racism, speciesism, and colonialism, finding expression in contemporary slaughterhouses. These workplaces remain perpetuators and incubators for multiple forms of violence against workers, animals, and communities. 

Benjamin Eidelson (Harvard Law School) – Nonhuman Animals and the Concept of Discrimination

This presentation will map central distinctions in the contemporary philosophical understanding of discrimination. It will then frame a series of questions about whether discrimination offers an apt conceptual framework for analyzing or indicting the mistreatment of nonhuman animals.

François Jaquet (CRÉ) – Speciesism and Tribalism: Embarrassing Origins

Animal ethicists have been debating the morality of speciesism for over forty years. Despite rather persuasive arguments against this form of discrimination, many philosophers continue to assign humans a higher moral status. The primary source of evidence for this position is our intuition that humans’ interests matter more than animals’ similar interests. And it must be acknowledged that this intuition is both powerful and widespread. But should we trust it for all that? The present paper defends a negative answer to that question, based on a debunking argument. The intuitive belief that humans matter more than other animals is unjustified because it results from an epistemically defective process. It is largely shaped by tribalism, our tendency to favor ingroup members as opposed to outgroup members. And this influence is distortive for two reasons. First, tribalism evolved for reasons unrelated to moral truths; hence, it would at best produce true moral beliefs accidentally. Second, tribalism generates a vast amount of false moral beliefs, starting with racist beliefs. Once this intuition is discarded, little evidence remains that speciesism is morally acceptable.

Natalie Stoljar (McGilll) – Oppression and nonhuman animals (brief remarks)

This talk will briefly outline different accounts of oppression in the philosophical literature. It will raise the question of whether nonhuman animals  can be said to suffer oppression on any of these accounts. In particular, can the harms suffered by nonhuman animals be explicated as intersectional oppression?

Shelley Tremain (BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY) – Ableism, Animals, and Apparatuses 

My presentation is designed to show how Foucault’s insights can be used to enlarge the scope of discussions between philosophy and theory of disability and critical animal studies. I draw upon Foucault’s identification of far-reaching ensembles of power as apparatuses to argue that this insight can be used to denaturalize the allegedly value-neutral classification of species. Various authors have argued that Foucault’s failure to examine the ways that modern power operates to control the lives of nonhuman animals renders it anthropocentric and speciesist. Such criticisms, I maintain, are superficial and rely upon a misunderstanding of Foucault’s claims about the relatively recent form of power that he called “biopower,” the form of power that is directed at the enhancement of the life of the human as an individual and the life of the human as a species.

Agnes Trzak (activist-scholar) – Speciesism and Disability: A Story about a disabled Dog, a Duck and the Woman who Cared for Them

Forms of human oppression rely on speciesist tools of dehumanisation and objectification to justify and make possible the violence perpetrated by a dominant group over a marginalised one. This is precisely where the intersection between ableism and speciesism lies, as disabled humans are routinely dehumanised and so robbed of agency and a presence in society. In this talk we will explore the dangers of using the concept of ability to justify moral consideration amongst humans and how ableism works beyond constructed species barriers. We will uncover how the construct of “humanness” in a Eurocentric capitalist context is linked to (neurotypical) ability. Where does such a rigid understanding of “humanness” place animals in our ethics? In what ways can we dismantle hierarchies that grant more or less social capital to individuals, based on their ability? Agnes will share an intimate story of her relationship with two of her animal companions, a disabled dog and an injured duck, shedding light onto how we construct certain identities, such as that of a “dog”, or that of a “woman” and exploring what happens when dominant societal expectations towards these fabricated identities cannot be met. As a disabled person, Agnes knows how rigid assumptions about an Other can make many parts of social life inaccessible to the othered person. Yet Agnes relies solely on perception and projection when telling this story, which thus can only ever be a story about the dog and the duck, but never their story.

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