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Piers Beirne

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The Use and Abuse of Animals in Criminology: A Brief History and Current Review

Beirne’s project is simply to place animal abuse firmly on the sociological agenda, given that scholarly studies of animal abuse remain virtually nonexistent and the topic is completely ignored in criminology textbooks. Historically, non-human animals have not been absent from criminological discourse. Yet Beirne asks whether they appear as authentic subjects or as mere appendages to humans. Are they viewed as sentient beings with innate rights or as edible meat awaiting slaughter? When answered, these questions invite the charge that criminology has been guilty of a thoroughgoing speciesism. Rather than engaging in animal advocacy as such, the essay describes the roles that animals occupy in criminology as criminals, as partners to humans in crime, and as objects, while also drawing analogies between animals and humans. According to Beirne, despite a substantial mass of legislation specifying various crimes against animals, including the federal Animal Welfare Act (1965) and numerous state anti-cruelty laws, the concerns of sociology and criminology lag far behind those of criminal law. Even the most enlightened or progressive definitions of crime are permeated with speciesism. To define crime as “social harm” or “analogous social injury,” for example, precludes harms and injuries committed against animals. The untheorized treatment of animals as objects in the literature of sociology and criminology mirrors how they are routinely treated in factory farms, research laboratories, zoos, and aquaria, or displayed as items of clothing. Animals are used and abused by humans in many of the same ways, and for many of the same dominionistic reasons, Beirne argues, as those accounting for why males have oppressed women and whites have enslaved persons of color. Given the threat posed by an activist, right-wing-dominated Congress to the Endangered Species Act and the degree to which profit-centered development has imperiled the planet’s ecosystem, the arguments in this challenging essay deserve a close reading.

criminology; animal rights; animals, treatment of; animals

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 22, No. 1 (1995): 5-31

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