Zoopolis: From Practice to Theory and Back

We are delighted by the creation of this blog devoted to sharing ideas about how to implement a political model of animal rights that emphasizes the citizenship, sovereignty and denizenship rights of non-human animals. When we developed this model in Zoopolis, we were inspired by many grassroots initiatives for improving human-animal relations. Around the world people are engaged in grass-roots experiments for change — creating inter-species sanctuaries that explore what it is like for humans and animals to live as a community of equals; developing sustainable and ethical economic models in regions where humans and wild animal populations live side-by-side; using re-wilding and green corridors to restore to animals some control over their movement and their lives; designing new technologies to reduce the dreadful impact on animals of highways, dams, high-rises, fences, hydro lines, shipping lanes, and so on; crafting co-existence programs that allow humans and liminal animals (like pigeons, raccoons and coyotes) to share urban spaces without coming into conflict; and starting animal-friendly businesses (and disseminating nutrition knowledge) to make it easier for people to choose compassionate vegan living.

Our goal in Zoopolis is to provide a theoretical framework for thinking about how all of these initiatives fit together, and how they all contribute to a coherent conception of human-animal justice. These grassroots initiatives are evidence of a widespread desire in our societies to rethink our relationship to animals, and also evidence that we have the knowledge and the will to bring about real change. Every day, around the world, committed individuals and groups are using planning, design, technology, creativity and compassionate good sense to reduce the harms we carelessly and needlessly inflict on animals, and to create the conditions where new forms of inter-species relationships are possible. And everyday, we discover further opportunities to interact with animals as agents, as workers, as companions, as neighbours, and as co-creators of societies (whether with us, or on their own), and not simply as objects, resources, or property.

However, there is a crucial missing link, and this is the fact that animals are simply invisible in our conceptions of politics. While animals are often present in our individual hearts and minds, they are entirely absent in our accounts of democracy, sovereignty, citizenship, borders, territory, the constitution, and political community more generally. As a result, all of these grassroots initiatives are both fragmented and fragile. They are not connected to any long-term political vision of where animals fit into our legal and political order. So long as politics and democracy are understood as human-only activities, then pro-animal initiatives will always be political leftovers or afterthoughts, operating in the interstices of a legal and political order that remains resolutely anthropocentric.

Our aim, therefore, is to connect these grassroots initiatives to a story about where animals fit in our theories of democracy, citizenship and political community. This is partly a matter of recognizing that animals are sentient beings and not property, but it is also, and equally importantly, a matter of recognizing that animals will inevitably and appropriately have different relations to our political community. Some will be our co-citizens, sharing intensive forms of cooperation and communication, others are better seen as citizens of their own sovereign communities on their own territory, and yet others can be seen as denizens who share the same physical space with us while still maintaining strong social distance from us. In our view, working out these different patterns of political belonging, both in theory and practice, is needed to create a world where everyone has a chance to flourish, where the vulnerable are not dependent on the goodwill of the powerful, and where the interests of all are taken into account in the design, institutions and decision-making of our shared community.

We have tried in Zoopolis to sketch what these different patterns might look like, and to suggest how a range of existing grassroots initiatives can be seen as instantiating or foreshadowing these new models of human-animal relationships. But of course we could only scratch the surface, and our ideas will need to be tested, revised and refined in the light of new initiatives and experiences around the world. We look forward to being part of this evolving conversation.

Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson


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