Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Animal Justice"--A New Umbrella Term?

At one session at the just-concluded “Thinking About Animals” conference at Brock University, Katie Sykes of the Law faculty at Dalhousie University gave a good paper about the concept of animal rights and the medieval trials of non-human animals (in which pigs, for example, were tried for causing damage to human property or physical harm to humans). The non-human animals in such circumstances were, notionally at least, granted rights; they had a counsel for the defence, and so on. But in practice, of course, the fix was in. Sykes's point was that in practice things such as rights can have only a limited force without underlying changes in attitudes.

I was prompted by the paper to reflect on the degree to which “animal rights” has become a loaded term; the sad truth is that phrases such as “animal rights activists” and “animal rights movement” alienate many people before they even begin to think about the issues. However fraught it may be, “animal rights” surely remains a useful term—indeed, a necessary one in many contexts. But there are also certain contexts in which it would be good to be able to use a different term: circumstances where rights vs. interests is not the primary concern, and circumstances where it is important to bring together animal rights advocates, animal welfare activists, animal liberationists—the full spectrum—so as to maximize our chances of bringing about positive change on a particular issue.

I asked at the conclusion of the session in which Sykes had given her paper if anyone had specific suggestions as to what we could use as an umbrella term in such circumstances. I suggested simply “animal advocates,” and someone else suggested “animal protection” advocates, but neither of those seems entirely satisfactory. Towards the end of the following day, however, another academic who had given a paper in the same session—Andrew Weiss of Ryerson University—came up to me and said he had been reflecting on the question and thought “Animal Justice” might make a good umbrella term. He also said he had been trying the idea out with others at the conference through the day and that they had all had a positive reaction. I’ve since tried it out on a handful of others, and everyone I’ve talked to so far has reacted very positively. I really like Andrew Weiss’s suggestion – and the more I imagine it being used the better I like it:

“Animal Justice advocates responded with a strong statement concerning ...”
“The Animal Justice movement was out in force today to protest the …”

What do you think?


  1. Hi Don,
    It's great!
    There's a group called Mercy for Animals. Does Justice already imply mercy?

  2. Animals are here for us to eat. Period theres other things to worry about than just if animals get pampered enough because people think they're cute.


Comments welcome!