The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

This thoroughly revised Handbook provides an assessment of the scope and content of environmental sociology, and sets out the intellectual and practical challenges posed by the urgent need for policy and action to address accelerating environmental change.
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Chapter 13: Animals and Us

Ted Benton


Ted Benton Introduction: dualism and its critics In Western societies the dominant view of the relationship between human beings and animals has been to make a strong distinction between the two: human beings have been contrasted with animals, with highly valued qualities such as rationality, language, moral autonomy, creativity, love of beauty and so on attributed to human beings, while animals have been seen as not just lacking in these qualities, but as also embodying unwanted human traits such as ‘brutality’ and ‘bestiality’ (see Midgley, 1979). However, this has never been the only available way of thinking and feeling. Traditional farmers, pet-keepers and naturalists, among others, have generally found themselves forming close ties with other species, have often recognized strong similarities and accepted responsibility for the well-being of these ‘others’. Sometimes, especially since the latter part of the nineteenth century, such experiences have formed one of the motivating sources for militant campaigning activity against various sorts of perceived abuse of animals (including birds). In recent decades, and especially in the richer countries, there has been a resurgence of such militant action, now armed intellectually with powerful philosophical arguments, and often calling into question not just this or that abuse, but denouncing our whole form of social existence as grounded in violent abuse of other species. Though treated with deep suspicion, and even outright hostility by the mainstream communications media and political ‘establishment’, the wider, more generous sentiments underlying the animal rights and welfare campaigners clearly evoke broad public sympathy. However,...

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