The Animal Turn

S6E1: Politics with Will Kymlicka

October 22, 2023 Claudia Hirtenfelder Season 6 Episode 1
The Animal Turn
S6E1: Politics with Will Kymlicka
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Claudia launches Season 6 by talking to Will Kymlicka about politics. They discuss how animals remain largely sidelined in political philosophical thought, as compared to other areas of ethics and social theory. Will delves into three different models for how to bring animals into politics: politics “on behalf of” animals, where humans represent animals; politics “by” animals, where wild animals exercise self-government; and politics “with” animals, where humans and animals do politics together and co-author decisions. As examples of joint politics, they discuss recent efforts to share power with domesticated animals in farmed animal sanctuaries, in the family and in the workplace.

 

Date Recorded: 30 September 2023. 

 

Will Kymlicka is the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, where he has taught since 1998. He is the co-author with Sue Donaldson of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, published by Oxford University Press in 2011, and now translated into German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Turkish, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Polish. Zoopolis argues that animals belong at the heart of democratic political theory - defending rights of citizenship for domesticated animals and sovereignty rights for wild animals – and its ideas have helped launch the recent `political turn’ in animal ethics. Will and Sue have continued developing their model of a zoopolis, and its implications for animal advocacy, legal reform, and alliances with other social justice movements. Their recent work has appeared in Politics and Animals; The Philosophy and Politics of Animal LiberationJournal of Animal Ethics; Canadian Perspectives on Animals and the Law; the Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies. Will co-directs the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research group at Queen’s University, including its postdoctoral fellowship program, and teaches courses in animals and political theory and in animals and the law. 

  

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Thank you to Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics (A.P.P.L.E) for sponsoring this podcast, Jeremy John for the logo, Gordon Clarke for the bed music, Christiaan Mentz for his editing work, and Virginia Thomas for the animal highlight. 

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Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics (A.P.P.L.E)

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00:00 - Introduction 

  • It’s season 6 and this season we are focusing on animals and politics 
  • Will Kymlicka back on the show, Will was the very first interviewee on the show
  • Will Kymlicka is the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, where he has taught since 1998. He is the co-author with Sue Donaldson of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, published by Oxford University Press in 2011, and now translated into German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Turkish, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Polish. Zoopolis argues that animals belong at the heart of democratic political theory - defending rights of citizenship for domesticated animals and sovereignty rights for wild animals – and its ideas have helped launch the recent `political turn’ in animal ethics. Will and Sue have continued developing their model of a zoopolis, and its implications for animal advocacy, legal reform, and alliances with other social justice movements. Their recent work has appeared in Politics and Animals; The Philosophy and Politics of Animal LiberationJournal of Animal Ethics; Canadian Perspectives on Animals and the Law; the Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies. Will co-directs the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics research group at Queen’s University, including its postdoctoral fellowship program, and teaches courses in animals and political theory and in animals and the law. 
  • Hoping today we can focus on politics as a concept – what is politics and why should animal studies scholars be interested in it?

 

04:36 – The Animal Question in Moral and Political Philosophy

  • A political philosopher at Queen’s University, work always been in political theory
  • Focus on justice, rights, legitimacy, sovereignty – how societies are governed.
  • Animals are surprisingly absent in political philosophy. 
  • This is different to the field of moral philosophy where “the animal question has been quite high profile, at least since the 1970s” – Will 
  • The animal question is now a core question in moral philosophy. 
  • Most textbooks in political philosophy make no mention of animals. 
  • It is a bit of a puzzle why there is asymmetry between moral and political philosophy
  • At its core politics, as inherited from the western tradition is driven by human exceptionalism and the idea that humans are unique in how they are able to make collective decisions. 
  • Advocacy movement has had some success in including animals in the moral circle but less success in including them in the political movement 

 

10:34 – Morals vs. Politics?

  • “Is politics normally construed as being separate from moral questions?” – Claudia 
  • The distinction between morality and politics may be strong in philosophy but it is not necessarily unique to it. 
  • “Moral philosophy is really focused on how an individual agent should reason through their moral choices” – Will
  • “What distinguishes politics is that … there is a requirement that we make a decision collectively and that that collective decision be enforceable. And so, politics involves the idea of authority.” – Will
  • “How to think about the creation of legitimate authority” – Will 
  • Need to think about relationships of authority and governance so that we can point the body that has the right to make binding decisions on behalf over others. 
  • This raises questions about legitimacy, sovereignty, and representation.
  • How do we make sure that those who govern track those who are governed? Also, how does this governing body justify itself?

 

14:23 – Legitimate Authority: Three Models

  • We can think about how animals have structured their own legitimate authorities or we could think about we can include animals in human structures. 
  • Just finished a paper in which they outline 3 models: 
  1. How do we include animals in human decision making? This is politics on BEHALF of animals. You could imagine, for example, parliamentary seats being set aside for animals/animal representatives.
  2. Instead think about how animals govern themselves and make collective decisions. This is politics BY animals. Animals need to ensure that the authority in their communities is perceived as legitimate – this is a huge body of ethological research. Important to acknowledge that animals govern themselves and that they have a right to do so. Need to respect their collective right to govern themselves. 
  3. The third model needs to be thought about more. This is politics WITH animals. Is it possible to imagine that we have politics with animals? Something we jointly do? One example could be farmed animal sanctuaries as micro-sites of politics. Some forms of urban design might also fall under the heading of joint politics. Need to think about a process in which animals and humans can make proposals through iterative processes. 

 

22:50 - Urban Animals and Iterative Politics 

  • Cities historically have been planned for and by humans but there is growing recognition that liminal animals have a right to be there
  • Season on Animals and The Urban
  • How can we think of urbanisation as an iterative process?
  • A lot of animals make use waterways that are not developed, areas humans might think of as neglected. 
  • Design could be more sensitive to how animals move through cities. 
  • With Climate Change there is going to be a lot of retro-fitting in urban space. 
  • Urban wildlife have managed to find, often under unjust conditions, have found niches but due to climate change existing animals relations might become unsustainable and new animals might be moving into cities. 
  • We have to start think about mitigation and adaptation for animals too. 
  • Danielle Clode and Koalas, more and more moving into cities

 

26:25 – Levels of Politics By Animals: Communities and Commons

  • Is politics by animals primarily at the species level?
  • No, namely at the level of herds, pods, flocks, etc. 
  • Growing evidence that different groups of animals have different cultures and different political cultures
  • “The unit of animal politics is not species but communities” – Will 
  • Both humans and animals are part of ecosystems which also require governance. 
  • The idea of an interspecies commons is a way of thinking about animals territory and sovereignty. 
  • In some areas it is appropriate for us to think of some lands as belonging to animals but in other instances we are sharing territory. In those instances we need to think about the governance of a commons. 
  • Steve Cooke is an upcoming episode when we talk about Habitat Rights. 
  • Collective nouns – maybe we’ve almost always implicitly known that animals govern themselves in these smaller governing structures. 
  • Herd animals move with other animals – a Savannah could be thought of a multispecies political space. 

 

32:33 – Politics and Society 

  • Disciplinary divisions have meant that scholars are invested in exaggerating the difference between social and political life. 
  • “Politics is a vehicle for a community to do things” – Will
  • Politics is not an isolated domain out there somewhere, it emerges through the requirements of living together as social animals. 
  • There are norms about how we are going to live together and there needs to be mechanisms about how those norms are agreed upon or contested.
  • We need a rich understanding of the social life of animals and then we will see politics there. 
  • Elephants and wolves, if you put on a political imagination you better see animals’ politics because you are less likely to simply write it off as instinct. 

 

37:45 – Wolves, Dominance, and Social Biology 

  • The tendency of thinking about wolves as alphas has shaped the lives of dogs and humans
  • Wolf society more focused on collaboration and cooperation than dominance. 
  • Humans project human ideas onto animals and then those findings are then impressed back onto humans.
  • Socio-biology was trying to say dominance hierarchies are evolutionary encoded in all of us.
  • Interesting slippages that should cause pause.

 

39:50 – Membership in Families and Workplaces 

  • Interested in how animals are included in family and labour law – why is this important?
  • There are certain obligations we should have toward all animals because they are sentient. A lot of the Animal Rights movement has focused on animals’ intrinsic moral status. 
  • For domesticated animals justice requires acknowledging their membership in our societies. 
  • We need to fight for recognition of sentience but we also need to be fighting for recognition of membership. 
  • If we think about other movements that have been confronted with challenges about making claims to social membership, family and work are tangible options. 
  • Many people think of their companion animals as members of their families. 
  • “I think it’s really important that we think about families as multispecies families” – Will. 
  • There are legal trends in this direction, recognizing animals as members of the family.
  • In work, many groups have made social membership claims by pointing to their work. There are some examples of interspecies workplaces where humans and animals view themselves as part of a team. 
  • “In these specific contexts, it’s really hard not to acknowledge what we have here is a case for social membership. There’s just no way to understand that relationship except through the idea that we really are part of a social relationship.” – Will

 

46:00 – Exit Options and Interspecies Sociability

  • We owe domesticated animals membership rights but we do not have the unilateral right to force them to stay. We need to think about how animals can exit a family, a workplace or even a society. 
  • Hunch that many domesticated animals, if they were treated as members of society and had rights, their lives might be enriched.
  • “The way in which humans and animals have developed the capacity for interspecies sociability immensely enriches the possible lives we can have.” – Will 
  • But this is contingent on ending exploitation and harm. 
  • Many animals enjoy interactions with humans and this might not be as species level. 
  • This is not an endorsement of breeding practices. 
  • Pet relations come up often as an example of a coercive relationship

 

52:00 – Members of Society 

  • Focus on family and work are entry points to establish the real goal of achieving membership rights. 
  • Domesticated animals should have claims on social institutions and public space 
  • The broader social and political structures of society are profoundly unjust – if we want to overcome this injustice we need to acknowledge the universal rights that flow to all sentient beings and acknowledging the distinctive obligations that arise for domesticated animals because of how we have included them in our society. 
  • Dog space in Vienna and Kingston are vastly different, varied municipal regulations. 
  • If we think about regulations regarding dog park and public transportation, one way to understand them is that once people see companion animals as members of the family services are provided for them.
  • There are severe limits on interspecies families and their ability to do family things.
  • Why have urban relations manifested so differently in different spaces.

 

58:28 – Quote (Blue and Rock)

  • “Developments in social theory over the past few decades have unsettled deeply entrenched assumptions about what constitutes the human by exposing the tenuous divisions that separate humans, non-human animals and technologies and, in turn, affording a more active role to non-human entities in the constitution of social worlds. The concept of the public, however, remains persistently, stubbornly, and somewhat curiously entrenched in anthropomorphic imaginaries. Within and outside of academe, it is commonplace to suppose that publics are purely human and that publics arise from the unique human capacity for symbolic communication. (Blue and Rock 2014: 504)” By Gwendlyn Blue and Melanie Rock, 2014, Animal Publics
  • When we talk about the social world we have become accustomed to recognizing that the social world is interspecies but as soon as we start looking at the world though political concepts, like public, all we see are humans. The same thing is true for many political concepts. 
  • A lot of people only imagine voting and parliaments when they think of politics
  • There has been resistance to this reductive account of politics. 
  • There has been a way from thinking about aggregative democracy to deliberative democracy, but this is extremely human centered.
  • We need to enrich politics beyond deliberation which includes resistance, aspirations, embodiment, relationality. 
  • Feminist theories of relational autonomy and the disability movement are informing this enrichment of politics. 
  • Are you asking empirical or future imaginary questions? Interest is definitely imagining a better future “what would politics at it’s best look like?” – Will
  • But we don’t want to fabricate images of a unrealistic future, “we want to find some real world examples that are pre-configurations of what this future idea would be” – Will 

 

01:07:00 – What’s next? 

  • Working on the next book and hope it will be done relatively soon
  • kymlicka@queensu.ca


01:08:41 - Animal Highlight (Domesticated Dogs)

  • Using Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka's Zoopolis, Virginia Thomas discusses domestic dogs and the ways in which they can be thought of as members of society. 


Credits 

  • Thank you to Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics (A.P.P.L.E) for sponsoring this podcast; Gordon Clarke (Instagram: @_con_sol_) for the bed music, and Jeremy John for the logo. This episode was edited by Christiaan Mentz and produced by the host Claudia Towne Hirtenfelder.  


This transcript was compiled by Claudia Towne Hirtenfelder




Introduction
The Animal Question in Moral and Political Philosophy
Morals vs. Politics?
Legitimate Authority: Three Models
Urban Animals and Iterative Politics
Levels of Politics By Animals: Communities and Commons
Politics and Society
Wolves, Dominance, and Social Biology
Membership in Families and Workplaces
Exit Options and Interspecies Sociability
Members of Society
Quote (Blue and Rock)
What are you working on now?
Animal Highlight: Domesticated Dogs
Credits

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