April 17, 2018

Critical Animal Studies:
Towards Trans-Species Social Justice

Edited by Atsuko Matsuoka and John Sorenson

Critical Animal Studies | Rowman & Littlefield 2018

Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

This new book of challenging essays by scholars and activists includes my analysis of “The Disengagement of Journalistic Discourse about Nonhuman Animals,” published online as Disengaged Journalism & The Disparagement & Disappearance of Animals. The book’s Introduction provides the following synopsis of my chapter to which I’ve taken the liberty of incorporating some modifications of my own for emphasis:

Prominent activist Karen Davis draws on her long experience of defending animal rights to consider how animals and animal rights issues have been represented in mainstream media. In spite of the fact that mainstream journalism has given more attention in recent years to these spaces of violent abuse, Davis notes, “In my 30-plus years in the animal advocacy movement there has been virtually no analysis or critique of the coverage given to farmed animals by the mainstream media.”

Critical Animal Studies book cover

Karen’s analysis demonstrates that a particular type of ethical blindness persists in which exploitation and violence are, paradoxically, “visible, yet unperceived.” In a model of engaged scholarship, Davis exposes the tactical and rhetorical strategies that are used in media coverage of animal issues, such as the use of euphemisms like “humane” and “euthanasia” to describe brutal and sordid violence in the service of profit. She notes the shallow criticisms of specific abuses that exist together with a ready endorsement of the broad system in which all these cruelties are conducted. She argues that what some animal advocates consider strong critiques of animal abuse actually operate to leave readers powerless and ineffective.

For example, even in cases where cruelties are noted, a jokey style that comments on how “tasty” animals are serves to undermine any real critique and to condone the system that allows those cruelties to occur. [New York Times columnists Nicholas Kristof and Mark Bittman epitomize this method of jokey disengagement toward farmed animals, always reassuring readers that no matter how much the animals suffer, “we” love our hamburgers and chicken nuggets far more than we care about them.]

Citing a number of cases, Davis analyzes how these rhetorical practices operate not only in media reports but also in other types of texts and act to depoliticize animal abuse, disempower activists, and reinforce mainstream complacency. Within this model of analysis, liberal opinion – in this case, a flaccid concern for “humane treatment” linked with fawning plugs for “conscientious” omnivorism – plays an important gatekeeper role in maintaining the system, as it acts to constitute the outer limits of acceptable ideas and attitudes.



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