lördag, juni 30, 2007

Tracing the Insuperable Line: How to Study the Reproduction of Speciesist Hegemony in Politics

This text is offered here as a draft of a research design for my dissertation project in political science concerning the political dynamics of speciesism. Comments and suggestions on all parts are welcome! Email me at:

1. Introduction

In this paper I intend to develop a theoretical and methodological framework for studying the political articulation of the human-animal-relationship. The aim of the paper locks into my dissertation project, which is an effort to theorize the political dynamics of speciesism—that is, how the normative divide between species that allow humans to exploit nonhumans is upheld by way of political thought and action. This dynamic, I believe, can be studied as discourse in official documentation of the policy making area of animal protection, such as laws, propositions, official government reports, parliamentary debates and party statements/programs.

The argument proceeds as follows:

In sections 2 and 3, I introduce and defend basic tenets of animal rights philosophy. This serves as an introduction for the unfamiliar reader as well as a rationale for claiming that this issue is important and legitimate to study from a political theoretical point of view.

In section 4, I argue for the urgency of developing a critical theory of speciesism, and present my theoretical assumptions and over-arching research question accordingly. In this chapter I also recapitulate the Marxist theory of speciesism developed by David Nibert (2002), and argue that it needs to be ameliorated by a more complex understanding of those cultural and ideological elements of social life which can not simply be reduced to the material basis.

Section 5 provides an overview of how discourse theory can clarify the role of language in constructing and facilitating social and political power relations.

In section 6, I introduce the notion of the welfare paradigm as the hegemonic discourse in animal politics. Here, I will also make the controversial argument that one of the main vehicles for legitimating nonhuman oppression and exploitation today is the discursive practice of animal protection politics.

In section 7, I discuss how policy areas can be conceived of as discourses, and how further research questions can be generated by the theoretical framework developed so far. In this part I will draw heavily on the approaches to policy studies developed by Ulf Mörkenstam (1999) and Carol Lee Bacchi (1999). Finally, I will try to show how critical discourse analysis (CDA), as developed by Norman Fairclough (1992, 1995), may be helpful in the study of this policy area.

2. Animal Rights: The Rise of a Post-Humanist Ethics

The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse? (...) the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?
– Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789 (1996)

Every year, humans use billions of other animals for a wide range of purposes—mainly for food, clothing, experiments and entertainment. The social legitimacy of this routine commodification, exploitation and killing of nonhuman individuals rests on widely disseminated beliefs defining a certain conception of the human-animal relationship in our society. These beliefs are generally speciesist—that is, they are structurally analogous to racism and sexism in their explicit exclusion of certain individuals or groups from full access to the sphere of moral concern.

Following Joan Dunayer, I define speciesism as the “failure, in attitude or practice, to accord any nonhuman being equal consideration and respect” (2004 p. 5). Over the last 35 years, speciesism has come under heavy fire from moral philosophers, and a new social movement—the animal rights movement—has spawned. (For introductory reading confer (DeGrazia 2002, Francione 2000, Gålmark 1997, Gålmark 1998, Jasper & Nelkin 1992, Singer 1999, Regan 1999). Philosophers and activists alike have strongly questioned the assumption that other animals can be reduced to resources and property for humans to use and dispose of as they see fit. As did Bentham in 1789, they have asked what it is that should trace “the insuperable line” between human and nonhuman, and they have found the answers acutely lacking. In fact, when scrutinized from up close, the normative human-animal divide turns out to be not nearly as clear-cut as we are historically and socially conditioned to assume.

First, we now know beyond any doubt that many other animals than humans are conscious, sentient beings. Far from being the unfeeling organic automatons once envisioned by the mechanist Descartes, nonhuman animals are products of a natural evolution which has endowed them with sharp senses, strong biological needs and capacities for complex social interaction (on Descartes’ views cf. Marshall 1992 p. 187-190, Singer 1999 p. 219-221). They do not only exist in the world, but are acutely aware of the world. They can experience pain and suffering as well as pleasure and joy, and the quality of their individual lives can, from their own subjective standpoint, turn out better or worse.

Second, given these capacities, we are hard pressed not to conclude with philosopher Peter Singer that animals have individual interests worthy of moral consideration—and not only that, but equal consideration. If other animals have interests, argued Singer in his seminal 1975 work Animal Liberation, these interests must be fully accounted for in our moral calculus, so that the suffering of any individual is accorded equal weight to the like suffering of any other (1999 ch. 1).

However, as we know, equal consideration for nonhuman interests is not the norm in any present-day society—rather the opposite. Traditional ethics still clings to the notion that there is an unbridgeable moral chasm between humans and nonhumans that allow the former to routinely make use of the latter for their own ends. Still, animal liberationists believe we can no longer overlook that a very strong case can be made for a species neutral ethic. In then next section, I will present the contours of this argument briefly, in a manner that places the burden of proof where I believe it belongs—on the adherents of speciesism.

3. The Argument for Species Neutrality

There may have been a time when our behaviour to the nonhuman creation was a debatable matter. This time has long past. … The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us, who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction.
– Stephen R. L. Clark (1977 p. 2)

Any morality with a claim to consistency will have to conform to the logic principle of uniformity. That is, like cases should be treated alike. If two individuals possess the same morally relevant property, they ought to be treated alike with regard to the property in question. For example, if two individuals, A and B, have an equal capacity for suffering, the principle of uniformity demands that their equal suffering be accorded the same moral consideration. The same goes for causing death. If A and B have an equal interest in continued life, it follows that premature death is an equal harm to both. Ceteris paribus, we are not justified in valuing the suffering or death of A any higher or lower than the suffering or death of B.

To defend speciesist practice then, its proponents have to show that the fact of us being human, rather than belonging to some other species, can justify human exploitation and killing of nonhumans. No one, of course, would deny that there are differences between human and nonhuman animals. Even at first glance, we look and behave markedly different. But the issue is not whether there are any differences, but if these differences are morally relevant.

The first line of defence for speciesism is usually the argument from species belonging. It is simply held that humans are humans, while nonhumans are nonhumans, and this is taken to justify different moral standards for the two groups. This argument, characterized by philosopher James Rachels as “unqualified speciesism”, obviously is a non sequitur (Rachels 1991). It simply does not follow from humans having certain rights that nonhumans can not have these rights as well. Moreover, simply designating an individual to a certain species—that is, to a group defined by its common biological characteristics—carries no more moral weight than categorizing people by race, gender, eye colour or age. These biological traits are, in and of themselves, just that—biological traits, not moral ones. It does not follow from the simple biological fact that someone has a darker skin tone than me, that he or she is morally superior or inferior. Making such an assumption would be blatantly racist. Stating that someone has a certain skin tone may be useful for purposes of communication—such as when describing someone’s appearance—but the colour of an person’s skin in itself says nothing of how we ought to treat that individual. The same, obviously, goes for gender, eye colour and age. But if we can not infer moral worth directly from biological categorizations such as these, neither can we do it directly from the fact that someone is, let us say, a pig, a salmon or a moose. Doing so would be as morally arbitrary as racism or sexism.

Thus, the second line of defence for speciesism is necessarily to qualify it in some way. More specifically, the adherent of speciesism must show that there is something special about humans that imply that a certain set of rights are only applicable to members of the species Homo sapiens.

For any given right to be reserved for humans only, the speciesist needs to show that the following syllogism is consistently held to:

  1. Holding property P is a necessary and sufficient condition for someone to possess the moral right R.
  2. All humans and no nonhumans hold P.
  3. Therefore, only humans and no nonhumans possess the moral right R.

Take, for instance, the very common argument that human rights are grounded in some aspect of their rationality, a property (P) which is held to be unmatched by nonhumans (cf. Ferry 1997, Kant 1997, Nordin 1997, Svensson 2001). While it is undoubtedly true that humans, on average, can be considered more rational than nonhuman animals, it is certainly not true that all humans are more rational than all other animals. Quite to the contrary, many humans—such as all infants and some severely brain damaged individuals—are manifestly less rational than at least some adult animals (great apes and dolphins being two examples beyond dispute). Thus, if rationality is held to be a necessary property (P) for having a given right, condition (2) above is clearly violated, since quite a few humans are not rational while some animals exhibit at least some form of rationality.

Furthermore, it is clear that we can substitute rationality for other common properties that are often claimed to “trace the insuperable line” line between species. Take language, for instance. Not all humans have a language, but some animals have, if only in rudimentary form. Hence, condition (2) does not hold. How about the capacity for moral reciprocity—that is, the ability to honour one’s commitment to contractual agreement? Again, not all humans can do this, while some animals—such as chimpanzees—seem to be able to handle some concepts of reciprocal obligations (Goodall 1986). Once again, condition (2) is violated.

The terrible consequence of trying to qualify speciesism in this way is of course that it also effectively strips many humans from their rights. If an individual’s rights claims are to be determined solely by that individual’s capacity for rationality, then no coherent moral argument could be made against eating or experimenting on human infants or the mentally dysfunctional humans. (For a thorough exploration of this so called “argument from marginal cases” cf. Dombrowski 1997.)

Apparently, the originally perceived divide between humans and nonhumans has now been narrowed considerably. We can only conclude that unqualified speciesism appears as deplorable as racism or sexism, while qualified speciesism in its clamor for something uniquely human unavoidably excludes many humans from our universe of moral obligation. None of these positions are acceptable. Instead, the principle of uniformity suggests that individuals should be treated alike in as much as they are alike, and different in as much as that they are different. In moral terms, this translates into a principle of according equal consideration to like interests, regardless of who the bearer of the interest is.

In practice, of course, this conclusion dramatically undermines the legitimacy of human exploitation of other animals. As the opening quote by philosopher Stephen R. L. Clark illustrates, much is at stake here. If the moral status of nonhuman animals is to be radically reappraised, as suggested here, then society’s current treatment of nonhuman animals is “simply an obscenity” going on with “endless fury and destruction”. Indeed, what has just been a said amount to nothing less than taking the exploitation of nonhuman animals just as serious as we would similar exploitation of children or other defenceless humans. Animal liberationists thus call for comprehensive social change, including the abolition of age-old practices such as eating meat and other animal products, and the dismantling of the massive industrial complexes predicated on breeding and using nonhumans for food, clothing and experimentation.

4. Towards a Critical Theory of Speciesism

Big bucks from the carnage, and traditions to uphold.
– Universal Poplab, Vampire in You, 2006

4.1. What is critical theory?

When we talk about the human-animal-relationship, we talk about a socio-historical construction. Over time and over different societies, human attitudes towards other animals have differed quite remarkably. Normative conceptions of the human-animal-relationship span widely, from cultures worshipping (some) animals as deities, to the complete commodification of nonhumans in Western systems of factory farming. Hence, we have not much reason to assume that the relationship between humans and animals is a natural, pre-social one. On the contrary, this relation—like so many relations between humans—is a product of social history. It has changed over time, and it will change again. Indeed, it is morally imperative that it does.

Today, however, speciesist social traditions and relations prevail, and they do so with the considerable authority of that which is taken for granted. To paraphrase Max Horkheimer: “The whole perceptible world as present to a member of [speciesist] society and as interpreted within a traditional world-view which is in continuous interaction with that given world, is seen by the perceiver as a sum-total of facts; it is there and must be accepted.” (Horkheimer 1972 p. 199. Of course, instead of "speciesist", Horkheimer wrote "bourgeois") Rarely do we venture outside the speciesist paradigm as it is given by tradition and constantly reproduced in our own thoughts and actions. Still, I believe, what has been said so far makes it clear that we need to make that effort.

Speciesist words and practices abound. Thus, what is needed is a critical theory of speciesism, not only to make sense of the origins, reproductive processes and developmental trajectories of this quite remarkable and often contradictory tangle of human thought and activity, but also to further an explicitly emancipatory anti-speciesist agenda. Radical pedagogue and animal rights advocate Helena Pedersen (following Joe Kincheloe and Peter McLaren), lists seven basic assumptions of critical social theory that I find useful as a starting point:

1. All thought is fundamentally mediated by power relations that are socially and historically constituted.
2. Facts can never be isolated from the domain of values.
3. The relationship between concept and object is never stable or fixed and is often mediated by the social relations of capitalist production and consumption
4. Language is central to the formation of subjectivity.
5. Certain groups in society are privileged over others.
6. Focusing on only one form of oppression at the expense of the others often elides the interconnections among them.
7. Mainstream research practices are generally implicated in the reproduction of systems of oppression.

Critical researchers are also guided by questions about whose interests are served by particular institutional arrangements and forms of knowledge production, and where our frames of references come from. There is often also an emancipatory intent (understood as emancipation from various forms of domination). (Pedersen 2007 p. 27)

Critical theory, obviously, makes no claim to political neutrality (for the simple reason that there is none to be found). Tracing its intellectual roots to Marxism and the Ideologiekritik of the Frankfurt School, it is explicitly normative—and ultimately activist—in its ambition to confront oppressive social relations. “By examining the interplay between structure and social practices”, says Pedersen, “critical theory attempts to explain the ways in which dominant ideologies permeate everyday interpretative frameworks.” (Pedersen 2007 p. 27)

It follows from this understanding that a critical theory of speciesism would aspire to account for the interests, actions, power relations and historical processes that serve to naturalize, institutionalize and reify the human-animal-relationship in its present exploitative form—as well as identify real historical possibilities for progressive change.

4.2. David Nibert on human and nonhuman oppression

So far, the most comprehensive enunciation of a critical theory of speciesism can be found in sociologist David Nibert’s Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation (2002). From within a framework of historical materialism (drawing on Donald L. Noel’s analysis of racism), Nibert explores the intersectionalities of human and nonhuman exploitation throughout history. The core of this theory can briefly be summed up as follows:

1. Since there are limited resources in this world, humans may come into conflict with each other, and other animals, over these resources.

2. Controlling resources—including other people’s labour and nonhuman bodies—grants economic privilege and social power. Basically, you can manipulate and coerce others to work for you, since you have privately monopolized some of the society’s vital means of production. This gives you economic leverage on the “have-nots”, since they have no other choice but to work for the owning class, under conditions that this class decides. Best of all, since there is an asymmetry of power, you don’t have to pay them the full value of what they produce, and hence you can skim of the surplus value and make profit.

3. Since hierarchical stratification of society in terms or class, gender, race or even species, is not by any means a “natural” or “necessary” state of affairs, but rather a function of historically established power relations and institutions, there is always the possibility that the balance of power could change.

Thus, to preserve power and privilege, those who have it will be prone to emanate ideologies that serve their own interests. Such ideologies might include religion (preaching the subjugation of the masses under the clergy, church, king, capital and state), racism (devaluing people of another ethnic/cultural origin when this is convenient for using them as slaves, serfs or cheap labour in general), sexism (to preserve the notion of male superiority and the benefits men get from women’s unpaid labour), statism (promoting centralization of power into the hands of the few, and establishing property rights ultimately protected by police and military) and speciesism (to defend the profitable practice of mass murdering individuals of other species).

These ideologies are interlocking and feed into each other to establish a hierarchical understanding of the world, much resembling the kind of “Great Chain of Being” from “lower” to “higher” life-forms we find in ancient Greek and Christian philosophy, and reproduced in vulgar socio-biology.

4. These ideologies disseminate throughout society by such means as schools and education, by laws, churches, political propaganda, commercials and mass media. Ideologies then become, over time, “naturalized”—simply taken for granted. Essentially they become invisible to us, because they often are to close to us—even imprinted in our very identities—to obtain a critical perspective on them.

5. Naturalized ideologies in turn serve to reinforce the current power relations in society, most notably the structure of ownership and control of the means of production. This brings us around to square 1 again, only to repeat the cycle of domination, oppression and extraction of surplus value.

As Nibert points out, speciesism did not start with capitalism—but it has always developed in tandem with the organization of society and the enslavement of nonhuman animals has often served as a blueprint for other relations of domination. For example in the case of slavery, where subjugation and abduction of Africans by Europeans and (non-indigenous) North Americans were motivated with branding them “mere animals” (cf. Gålmark 2005, Spiegel 1996). Also, degrading comparisons between women and animals abound, and serve the purpose of marking women as less rational than men in order to preserve existing gender power relations (cf. Adams 1994, Adams 2000, Donovan, Adams 2000).

To a large extent, I agree with Nibert’s materialist account for the history of animal and human oppression. However, I am inclined to assign more weight to the independent workings of culture and discourse, which I believe play important parts and cannot wholly be reduced to material factors.

A central part of my critical endeavour, then, would be to analyze how speciesist attitudes and practices are made possible and reproduced in and through political discourse. Indeed, this is one area where I hope to my dissertation project can make a contribution.

The over-arching research question suggested as a starting point for this enquiry would then be:

  • How is speciesist hegemony articulated and reproduced in political processes in the field of “animal protection”?

In the following section, I will argue that discourse theory adds important insights into how language games constitute identities and knowable objects, and facilitate power relations in society. After that, I go on to discuss how political and policy-making processes are fundamentally informed by, and dialectically intertwined with, a broader speciesist discourse. Throughout this discussion, the theoretical framework will be used to generate further research questions by means of which speciesist discourse may be interrogated.

Before we go on, a brief note on methodology: It goes with the territory that in discourse analysis the line between theory and method is a bit blurred. Doing discourse analysis is neither a clear-cut inductive nor a deductive research strategy, with an easily defined set of methods. Rather, its method consists of asking critical questions to the material in search for discursive structure, “documenting many possible consequences of its existence, and then arguing for the plausibility of the connection between the evidence and the theory”. In the end, I willingly submit, the scientific credibility of this mode of research boils down to a matter of “persuasion and contention” (Blaikie 2000 p. 180).

5. Discourse Theory

Defined in very general terms, discourse theory occupies itself with the study of language both as a social practice in its own right, and as constitutive for social practice in general. The increased interest in the analysis of language in the social sciences derives in great part from the so called “linguistic turn” in twentieth-century Western philosophy, a turn “which has changed language from being thought of as a medium for expressing meanings that pre-exist linguistic formulation to a system that constitutes meaningfulness in its own terms” (Locke 2004 p. 11).

As stated by Marianne Winther Jørgensen and Louise Phillips, language is no longer conceived of only as “neutrally mirroring our world, our identities and social relations, but [as] playing an active role in the creation and changing of them” (Winther Jørgensen, Phillips 2000 p. 7).

Similarly, Norman Fairclough, drawing on Foucault, claims that “discourse is in an active relation to reality, that language signifies reality in the sense of constructing meanings for it, rather than that discourse is in a passive relation to reality, with language merely referring to objects which are taken to be given in reality” (Fairclough 1992 p. 42). Discourse, then, is fundamentally about the sense-making formation of meaning in and through the practice of language.

But not any meaning is conceivable at any time within a given discourse. Rather a discourse is a “system of lingual statements held together and delimited by statements within the same system” (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 52). In other words, the meaning of a statement is always contingent on the meaning ascribed to other statements within the discourse. According to structural linguistics, “there are no positive terms in language, only differences”(Laclau 1993 p. 432). In isolation from discourse, individual statements would be nothing but unintelligible, dead sounds and empty symbols devoid of meaning. Within discourse, on the other hand, individual statements acquire their meaning from being positioned in relation to, and as different from, other statements. Thus, the identity of any given word or statement must be conceived as a relational identity—that is, as a property not given a priori or as an essential nature, but emergent from the interrelation and differentiation of meanings.

In classical Sausseurian linguistics this understanding of the relational character of language takes on a strongly structuralist quality, in the sense that the signs are placed in a permanently fixed relation to each other, much like the knots evenly dispersed throughout a fishing net (Howarth 1995 p. 120-121, Laclau 1993 p. 431-432, Winther Jørgensen, Phillips 2000 p. 16-18). In more post-structuralist approaches, this cemented fixity of meaning is dissolved in favour of a view of discourse where the signs are still defined by their relational difference positions, but where it remains an open question which other signs each sign should be considered different from. For instance, the word “man” can in some situations be conceived as the opposite of “woman”, but in other situations it may as well be thought of as primarily defined in relation to, for example, “boy”, “god”, “animal” or “machine”. Hence, post-structuralist approaches do not deny structure as such, but emphasizes its temporal, open and contingent character. Instead of the sewn-shut fixity of the fishing net analogy of language, a more applicable post-structuralist analogy would be that of the Internet, where each webpage is connected to others but where hyperlinks between pages over time can be added, removed or redirected (Winther Jørgensen, Phillips 2000 p. 17-18).

However, this does not mean that discourse should be interpreted as the free-flowing and open communication of ideas, as in the ideal speech situation of Habermasian communicative ethics (Best, Kellner 1991 p. 240-246). Rather, “poststructuralists are concerned with the closure exerted by language, and more specifically by discourse” (Bacchi 1999 p. 40, my emphasis). In this sense, discourses can be said to “frame” bodies of thought and knowledge, emphasizing certain aspects and hiding others from view, setting limits to what can be expressed (and by whom), and thus institutionalizing the terrain of possible thought and action.

This, of course, brings us to the fundamentally political character of discourse. If the meanings of terms and objects are constituted in and through discourse, it follows that also social identities, social relations and modes of knowledge are constituted in and through discourse (Fairclough 1992 p. 64-65). Discourse thus sets the stage for politics in several ways. “Discourse as a political practice establishes, sustains and changes power relations, and the collective entities (classes, blocs, communities) between which power relations obtain. Discourse as an ideological practice constitutes, naturalizes, sustains and changes significations of the world from diverse positions in power relations” (Fairclough 1992 p. 67).

Furthermore, discourse frames and delimits the political in the sense that it defines what is to be considered an appropriate political argument, and what is seen as a proper or legitimate political issue, while effectively shutting other possibilities out (Bacchi 1999 p. 32-41, Mörkenstam 1999 p. 52-53).

In Foucault, discourses are indeed defined as quite sinister “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak; they do not identify objects, they constitute them and in the practice of doing so conceal them” (Foucault 2002 p. 54). From this point of view, discourse is intimately bound up with a conception of power as the foreclosure and shaping of strategic possibilities. In line with this reasoning, both Fairclough and Foucault state in a similar manner that discourse is “not only a site of power struggle, but also a stake in power struggle” (Fairclough 1992 p. 67), and that “discourse is (…) that for which, through which one fights—the power one tries to conquer” (Foucault 1993 p. 8).

If the identities of individuals, social relations and knowable objects are fixed through discursive language games, then language is indeed a potent apparatus for shaping the political agenda and the conditions of possible political action. Political struggle then, is to a great extent waged on discursive territory, in order to establish rule over discursive territory. But since a given discourse can never be anything but the articulation of one of many possible webs of meaning, complete victory will never be achieved. All that can be established is a tentatively sutured structure of relational meaning—what Laclau and Mouffe calls “hegemony” (Laclau & Mouffe 2001 ch. 3). For such hegemony to sustain itself on the inherently unstable and undecidable ground of discourse, it needs to be constantly reiterated and rearticulated.

6. The Welfare Paradigm

Nonhumans are political prisoners. The politics is speciesism.
– Joan Dunayer (2004:xiii)

Speciesist discourse can well be considered hegemonic in the sense recently discussed above. By discursively fixing the meaning of the human and the nonhuman “other” in a strictly hierarchical relationship, mass exploitation of other animals becomes thinkable, legitimate and doable. As convincingly shown by Joan Dunayer (2001), speciesist language is in effect set up so that the “insuperable line” is constantly retraced and reinforced in everyday utterances.

Importantly, in our society, nonhuman oppression commonly dresses in the discursive garb of “animal protection”. Most human actions taken against captive nonhumans are formally covered and regulated by the Animal Protection Act (Djurskyddslagen, SFS 1988:534) and the Animal Welfare Ordinance (Djurskyddsförordningen, SFS 1988:539). Within these broader legal frameworks there are further detailed regulations of nonhuman use issued by other state authorities, such as the Animal Protection Agency (Djurskyddsmyndigheten) and the Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket).

The general assumption is that these laws and regulations are primarily established to protect the interests of other animals and promote their welfare. This view, I will refer to as “the welfare paradigm” or “welfarism” for short. Lately, welfarism—both as an institutionalised practice and as a reformist strategy for animal liberation—has been heavily criticized. Prominent critics like lawyer Gary L. Francione and feminist theorist Joan Dunayer, hold that most present legislation on nonhuman use primarily serves to perpetuate the property status of other animals while at the same time legitimating this status by conveying to the general public that animals are well cared for (Francione 1995, Francione 1996, Dunayer 2004). Rather than securing any meaningful protection of nonhuman interests, the language of “animal welfare” and “animal protection” has been co-opted by the state and the animal industries to further their own national protectionist and profit-driven agendas, and to make nonhuman exploitation more palatable from the perspective of the consumers.

I concur with this criticism. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that after nearly 200 years of organized efforts for promoting “animal protection” in the West—including the explicit adoption of welfarism as official state and corporate ideology—far more nonhuman animals are routinely subject to more intensive exploitation than ever before in history. The speciesist character of the welfare paradigm is straightforwardly summed up by philosopher Steven Best: “Whatever barbarism you try to imagine, you will find it in today’s animal factories and laboratories—and it is almost always perpetrated in the name of ‘animal protection’.” (Quote in Svärd 2006 p. 29)

Still, the welfare paradigm holds a strong position in society, and constitutes an important framework for animal politics and policy-making. From a critical perspective though, the paradigm is all-out speciesist. It is therefore important to investigate its extraordinary capacity for reproducing the social norms that allow nonhuman exploitation to continue largely unquestioned. To this end, I will below suggest how official animal policy and policy making can be studied as discourse.

7. Animal Policy Making as Discourse

The bureaucratic and disciplinary diffusion of sovereign power produces a terrain of discursive power that operates without a subject, but that constitutes the subject in the course if its operation. This does not mean that there are no individuals who write and distribute the forms. It means only that they are not the originators of the discourse they convey and that their intentions, however strong, are not finally what control the meaning of the discourse.
– Judith Butler (1997 p. 34)

The discursive showground I aim to study is official Swedish policy on animal issues. The material under study would primarily include printed sources, such as laws, propositions, proposals, official government reports, parliamentary debates and party statements/programs. Of course, a limitation on the material has to be set, either in terms of a specific kind of material or in terms of a time span. This remains to be determined. However, since most material would be in the form of printed text, the chosen limitation of the material would not be very relevant for the choice of methodological approach.

In this section, I will go on to show how the framework consisting of critical theory and discourse theory can be used to generate further research questions which aim at identifying structural speciesism at work in policy-making. The argument will draw mainly from the work of Ulf Mörkenstam and Carol Lee Bacchi in the area of policy studies.

In his study of perceptions of the Saami minority in Swedish Saami policy, Ulf Mörkenstam (1999) argues that policy areas can be fruitfully explored as discourses, and discusses three important areas of interconnection between social belief systems and political policy-making. I will briefly go over the areas Mörkenstam analyzes, and show how they are not only relevant to understanding policy development in the area of human minority rights, but also for understanding the reproduction of speciesist hegemony in politics. For each area considered, further research questions will be generated.

7.1. Political legitimacy and world-view coherence

First, the institutional order prescribed and implemented by political policy must correspond to commonly held beliefs among the population, if it is to be considered legitimate in the long run (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 42-45). If a certain group—like the Saami—systematically is to be treated different from the rest of the population, this can gain legitimacy only by the placing the differential treatment within a coherent and meaningful whole. This “whole” is here conceived as a discourse. When it comes to nonhuman animals, the idea that they are resources for humans to use finds legitimacy in the discursively constituted notions of other animals’ vastly inferior status and radical “otherness” in relation to humans. This order of things is institutionalized into taken-for-granted convention, and is constantly reiterated in discursive practice. Hence, the political status of other animals is constituted by, and contingent on, a certain articulation of the human-animal relationship. When support is given to suggested policy in this area, it is on the basis of such a specific articulation of meaning.

Mörkenstam argues that the socially constructed conception of the Saami legitimated a certain institutional order in two ways: First, the order was explained by making statements about reality, from which, in turn, certain political problems and policy proposals were formulated. How the Saami group was described was of paramount importance for motivating and legitimating policy proposals (p. 45). In fact, it was largely through this description of the Saami, that the perceived political problems in Saami-Swedish relations were brought into existence. This is reminiscent of Judith Butlers approach to language: “The mark interpellation makes is not descriptive, but inaugurative. It seeks to introduce a reality rather than report on an existing one.” (Butler 1997 p. 33, my emphasis.) The same is true when it comes to policy on other animals, I would argue. Since the human-animal-relationship is not naturally given in its speciesist form, it must be inaugurated from within discourse, or else the reinvention of the “insuperable line” between human and non human would be impossible.

Second, Mörkenstam points out that legitimacy for a policy proposal is often won by according “practical circumstances” a normative value, such as when autonomy for the Saami was excluded as a political possibility in a discourse where the Saami were considered incapable of handling their own affairs (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 45). Similar claims may be encountered in the discourse legitimating certain policies on how to treat other animals. For example, Joan Dunayer has pointed to numerous examples of how nonhumans are subject to a “blaming the victim” strategy of subordination—such as when hunting and killing nonhumans in the wild is said to be for their own good (allegedly saving them from self-caused starvation), or when young male pigs in captivity are castrated without anaesthesia (putatively saving them from the future aggression that male pigs—in captivity—may exhibit towards one another) (Dunayer 2001). Since “descriptive ‘facts’ and normative judgement are conditioned by each other” (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 45), we need to study the overarching symbolic universe which accommodates for speciesist attitudes and practices in the formulation of policy.

This leads to another research question, which I borrow with no modification from Mörkenstam:

  • How are statements about reality and normative arguments connected?

7.2. Institutionalization, categorization and constitution of identities

Furthermore, Mörkenstam argues that the content of political policy is heavily dependent on the right to define the world—the privilege to interpret reality (1999 p. 46). Political action always takes place within a framework of “distinctions, categorizations and definitions from which reality is ordered” (Ibid.). Discursively created categories and classifications pre-determine which issues belong to a certain political field, and which do not. Some aspects of the world are included as relevant to the field, and others are excluded as irrelevant. Here, it is quite obvious that the discourse of animal rights is excluded from the policy-making process. While nonhuman animals are surely recognized as sentient beings within the welfarist paradigm, their sentience is not taken to imply any rights that go beyond the speciesist assumption that animals can be reduced to property for humans to use (cf. Francione 1995, Francione 1996).

We can also clearly see that different categories of animals are created to legitimate different treatment. For instance, “laboratory animals” is a category of beings which can be excluded from the protection of the Animal Protection Act (SFS1988:534, 19§) altogether, and thus be subject to unlimited pain (Persson 2006). Such treatment, of course, would not be considered remotely legitimate if it was applied to the category of “pets”—even though we may be talking about individuals of the same species, with similar capacity for sentience. The categorical differentiation between “laboratory animals” and “pets”, thus carry heavy normative meaning, which in turn authorize different treatment.

Mörkenstam also urges us to consider the importance of state action as a legitimating force (p. 46). By accepting one representation of reality and discarding others, the state authorizes this representation and imbues it with a special status of official wisdom, putatively resting on a legitimate foundation of scientific knowledge and a process of democratic deliberation (cf. Nibert 2002). Also, in doing this, state action performs the function of reiterating, conventionalizing and reifying a specific set of meaningful relations—a discourse—which will serve as the conditions of possibility for future speech acts and statements. Furthermore, since “the power to define and the capacity to uphold these definitions by legislation resides with the state, it follows that collective identities are forced onto individuals and groups” (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 48). From the viewpoint of discourse theory, this means that categorizations and identities authorized by the state serve to delimit the discursive field and suture shut the openness of possible meaning. State policy is legitimated by discourse, and discourse is legitimated by state policy.

The research questions spawned from this theoretical framework are thus:

  • How is the “animal” defined?
  • Which categories are established to trace a normative difference between humans and nonhumans, as well as between different animals?

7.3. The manoeuvrability of political actors

As we have seen, discourse sets the limits of acceptable speech. This is especially important in politics, where the “actors must relate to the frames created by each specific world of beliefs, if they do not want to risk their proposals being overlooked, or not being taken seriously themselves by appearing to be completely mad, incoherent, or unreliable” (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 49). Citing B. F. Skinner, Mörkenstam claims that the political actor faces the dual problem of having his/her actions seen as legitimate while also pursuing a set goal. This is not only an “instrumental problem of tailoring his normative language in order to fit his projects. It must in part be the problem of tailoring his projects in order to fit the available normative language.” (Skinner in Mörkenstam 1999 p. 49) Obviously, this observation has vast implications for the possibility to effect political change for nonhuman animals. Claims made from animal rights philosophy are simply not recognized in the “available normative language” of speciesist politics. Take for instance philosopher Tom Regan’s definition of the goal of the animal rights movement in the opening words of his classic essay “The Case for Animal Rights”:

I consider myself as an advocate of animal rights—as a part of the animal rights movement. That movement, as I conceive it, is committed to a number of goals, including:

• the total abolition of the use of animals in science;
• the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture;
• the total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping (Regan 1985 p. 13)

From Regan’s normative position—a rights view in the Kantian tradition inspired by G. E. Moore and rendered neutral with regard to species—these conclusions make perfect sense. (And had the victims been human children and not nonhuman animals, who wouldn’t agree?) Still, in the context of mainstream political discourse today, Regan’s abolitionist claims would very likely appear outrageous. To be recognized as making valid political claims, Regan would no doubt have to “tailor his project” to fit “available normative language”. In practice this would mean forfeiting his radical rights claims and going along with the only political option that legitimately fits into present speciesist discourse—i. e. the reformist welfare paradigm, which precludes questioning the property status of animals.

This is speciesist discursive hegemony at work. Again, this is not to say that hegemony can never be challenged—quite on the contrary, it always is. Instead, the example is intended to illustrate that careful and coherent ethical argument may often be of far less import in the shaping of politics, than discursively constituted political language is in shaping the ethics of the argument.

Now, if this is how the meticulously thought-out argument of a professor of philosophy might fare in the mainstream of political discourse, surely the rest of us making similar radical claims for nonhuman rights are likely to start out from even less advantageous subject positions. Mörkenstam’s argument about the manoeuvrability of political activists in a discursively sedimented policy field tends to leave us only two possibilities—being included by adopting the “appropriate normative language” (in this case the language of inherently speciesist welfarism), or being excluded as “extremist” by promulgating a straightforward animal rights message (cf. Francione 1996, Mathiesen 1989).

In connection to this issue of inclusionary/exclusionary processes, we also need to acknowledge broader social frameworks affecting the constitution of legitimate political action and activism. Steven Best reflects on the “neo-McCarthyite” period presently conditioning radical political activism in the U.S. after the Patriot Act:

As liberty was being attacked in the name of ‘security’, activists in the post-9/11 world confronted a threatening new terrain where political action against the state and corporations decimating animals and despoiling the earth was suppressed and conflated with ‘terrorism’ in order to legitimate severe political oppression. (Nocella & Best 2004 p. 10)

What is going on here is of course a conscious political effort to recode subordination to the state and corporate capitalism in terms of “security”, and—in the most classic of propaganda moves ever invented—the freedom fighter in terms of the “terrorist”. From a Swedish horizon we have become accustomed to similar exclusionary, “othering” language, like that inaugurating the personae of the “militant vegan” and the “animal rights terrorist”—terms conveniently designed to render invisible the very real militancy of meat-eating and the daily corporate terror on millions of nonhuman animals.

While speciesist hegemony in politics can surely be fought and subverted, exclusionary mechanisms such as these greatly help to explain the slowness of change, since change in this context necessarily entails fundamental re-arrangement of vast terrains of established meaning.

The research questions emerging from this analysis would then be:

  • How is political action in the policy area justified?
  • What kinds of arguments are used, and what kinds are not?
  • Which other—related or unrelated—discourses are drawn upon to authorize political action?
  • What kind of normative language appears in discourse—rights claims or welfare arguments?
  • Which actors and which actor behaviour is considered appropriate/not appropriate?

7.4. What’s the Problem?

Mörkenstam (1999 p. 56-57) adopts an approach to analyzing policy that lies close to what Carol Lee Bacchi calls the “What’s the Problem?” approach (Bacchi 1999). Both argue that problem representation in policy-making contribute to the construction of both the political problem and the range of available solutions. By looking at the way problems are discussed and represented in the policy area we can gain an understanding of how reality is conceived—that is, the discursively constructed reality in which speciesist attitudes and practices gain legitimacy. When a specific representation of the problem is established as dominant, other representations of the problem are marginalized. The answers and solutions to the problems, in turn, serve to constitute a specific set of status relations and identities (for instance, expanding cage sizes for “battery hens” may be touted as a welfare measure, while at the same time confirming that hens are beings rightly positioned for captivity). In problem representation “both knowable objects and subject positions” are constructed (Mörkenstam 1999 p. 57).

Furthermore, any area of politics has it own codes for what can be said and by whom. Often, the words of certain experts or specialists weigh in heavy. In animal politics, for instance, ethologists and biologists—including the vivisectors themselves—are often referred to as authorities, and thus they get a privileged position in shaping the problems at hand (Fairclough 1992 p. 155-158. For a discussion of “expert” influence in animal experimentation, cf. LaFollette & Shanks 1996).

Bacchi states as the goal of her “What’s the Problem?” approach “to understand how policy decisions close off the space for normative debate because of the impression that indeed they are the best solution to a problem. The focus then is on the closure effected on a model of policy making as decision making, or policy making as solutions to problems or, even more specifically, of policy making as working towards making improvements in situations.” (Bacchi 1999 p. 20, emphasis in original)

The approach emphasizes the “inability to separate ‘solution’ from ‘problem definition’”, and enables us to “see just what is at stake in postulated solutions”. The aim is to highlight “the interests and commitments at stake in postulated solutions, and suggest that analysts as well as other political actors have interests and commitments here which cannot be denied” (p. 21). Hence, Bacchi suggest a series of critical questions to be asked to the material:

• What is the problem of [human treatment of animals] represented to be either in a specific policy debate or in a specific policy proposal?
• What presuppositions or assumptions underlie this representation?
• What effects are produced by this representation? How are subjects constituted within it? What is likely to change? What is likely to stay the same? Who is likely to benefit from this representation?
• What is left unproblematic in this representation?
• How would “responses” differ if the “problem” were thought about or represented differently?
(Modified after Bacchi 1999 p. 13)

Obviously, these suggested questions lay very close to some of the research questions I have already generated from the discussion of Mörkenstam’s theoretical and empirical inquiry. Bacchis questions, I believe, helps strengthening the groundwork of my study, but further work will be needed to tailor these questions to the policy area at hand.

7.5. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

So far, I have mainly discussed research questions adapted to studying political problem representation, and the connection between the construction of problems and normative/political bias. In critical discourse analysis (CDA), as outlined by Norman Fairclough, several methods for studying discourses at a more detailed, textual level are suggested (Fairclough 1995, Fairclough 1992). Terry Locke has conveniently summed up some of Fairclough’s analytical tools as a checklist for text analysis (table 1).

Table 1. Fairclough: text analysis (in Locke 2004 p. 46)

Text analysis




Text structure

Deals mainly with individual words.

  • word meaning
  • wording
  • metaphors

Deals with words combined into clauses and sentences.

  • modality
  • transitivity and theme

Deals with how clauses and sentences are linked together.

  • connectives and argumentation

Deals with large-scale organizational properties.

  • interactional control

As already mentioned, a lot of work on revealing the normative investment in word meaning, wording and metaphor when it comes to animal issues has been done by Joan Dunayer in her book Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (2001). I will need to get back to her extraordinary analysis in my dissertation project, but for the moment I will leave these issues aside. I just want to note that vocabulary in CDA is often seen to offer important clues to interdiscursivity—that is, how different discourses may draw upon each other’s pools of meaning. Terry Locke argues that “the more frequently a particular wording is taken up across a range of texts in a range of situations, the more likely it is that a particular discourse is enlarging its subscription base” (Locke 2004 p. 51). (Here, again, the quick adoption of the term “militant vegan” in Swedish media in the mid-nineties would be an excellent case in point.) I will also leave aside the discussion of cohesion and text structure for now. Here I will only concentrate on the three concepts of grammar in CDA, since I believe they may be of use in my study.

First, modality refers to the degree to which a text expresses affinity with or endorsement of the propositions and statements made in it (Fairclough 2003 p. 158-62, 236, Locke 2004 p. 47). For instance, when arguing that animals are entitled to some kind of moral consideration, this claim can be made more or less forcefully: “Animals are entitled to rights”, “Animals are probably entitled to rights” or “Animals may be entitled to rights”.

Key features of modalization are modal auxiliary verbs such as “must”, “may”, “can” and “should”, modal adverbs such as “probably”, “possibly”, “obviously” and “clearly”, along with tense, such as in categorical assertions that something “is” in a certain way. Modality may further be subjective, as when one says “I think humans are morally allowed to kill animals for food”, or objective, as in “Humans are morally allowed to kill animals for food”.

In the objective modality, claims may easily appear universalized, thus hiding the agency or perspective of the speaker or writer. In this sense, modality covertly calls for a preferred reading of the text, and, in doing so positions the reader to subscribe to the statements made. Hence, argues Fairclough, “the use of objective modality often implies some form of power” (Fairclough 1992). Categorical modalities are very commonly used in mass media reporting, but I would hypothesize that similar assertions are also common in the political discourse on animal issues. Especially in parliamentary debates or in argumentation for specific proposals, I would expect to find objective modalities, “which allow partial perspectives to be universalized” (Fairclough 1992 p. 161). In short, modality of language contributes to establishing categories of reality, rendering partiality invisible, and positioning subjects according to the image of reality propounded in a statement.

Second, transitivity is a central concept in CDA. Transitivity refers to “whether particular process types and participants are favoured in the text, what choices are made in voice (active or passive) and how significant is the nominalization of processes. A major concern is agency, the expression of causality, and the attribution of responsibility.” (Fairclough 1992 p. 236) Summed up by Locke (2004 p. 49), transitivity comes in four main forms:

a. Relational: the verb marks a relationship (being, having, becoming, and so on) between participants, e.g. ‘100 demonstrators are dead’ (Fairclough’s example).
b. Action: an agent acts upon a goal. This is usually shown in a transitive (subject-verb-object [SVO]) clause, e.g. ‘The police shot 100 demonstrators’. The latter is an action process in the active voice. In passive voice, the goal becomes the subject and the agent is either passive (named in a phrase beginning with ‘by’ or omitted, e.g. ‘100 demonstrators were shot (by the police)’. As Fairclough (1992) points out, ‘an issue which is always important is whether agency, causality and responsibility are made explicit or left vague in media accounts of important events. (p. 181).
c. Event: this involves an event and a goal and is usually conveyed in intransitive (subject-verb [SV]) clauses, e.g. ‘100 demonstrators died’.
d. Mental: these processes include verbs of knowing (e.g. ‘think’), perceiving (e.g. ‘hear’) and feeling (‘enjoy’) and are usually realized as transitive clauses, e.g. ‘The demonstrators feared the police’.

In connection to transitivity, Fairclough also discusses the concepts of theme and nominalization. Theme refers to the initial part of a clause, which often privileges the information contained in it. “The theme is the text producer’s point of departure in a clause, and generally corresponds to what is taken to be (which does not mean it actually is) ‘given’ information, that is, information already known or established for text producers and interpreters.” (Fairclough 1992 p. 183) In CDA, the theme is often taken to reveal rhetorical strategies, or to indicate that which is taken for granted in a statement.

Nominalization is a term for how processes and activities in the world are linguistically turned into nouns or noun phrases, often to the effect of eliding who the agent in the process is, thus obfuscating causality and responsibility. (A parallel Marxist notion is “reification”, referring to how social relations are ideologically turned into “things”.) Nominalization serves to establish new categories of abstract entities which may be of great cultural, political and ideological importance. An example from my area of study could be “animal experimentation” as a noun phrase which nominalizes or “entifies” a diverse set of human activities directed at nonhumans into an object which in turn can take on the role of a goal or even an agent in discourse (Fairclough 1992 p. 183), as when one says “Animal experimentation furthers medical advancement”.

7.6. An example of CDA

The following is an excerpt from the party programme of the Liberal Party of Sweden (Folkpartiet Liberalerna), under the heading “animal protection” (sentence numbers added):

(1) Djur har rätt till hänsyn och respekt utifrån sina egna förutsättningar. (2) Att värna djurens väl och ve är en moralisk skyldighet för oss människor, inte minst på grund av att vi, till skillnad från djuren, har förmåga att göra etiska överväganden. (3) Onödigt lidande måste minimeras. (4) Ett samhälle som inte värnar djurens välbefinnande riskerar också att bli ett samhälle där utsatta människors värde förtrampas. (5) Grundläggande för svensk djurskyddslagstiftning är att djur som förekommer i diverse djurindustrier skall hållas väl och få sina arttypiska behov och beteenden tillgodosedda. (6) Detta stadgas tydligt i svenska djurskyddslagens portalparagrafer: ”att djuren inte ska utsättas för onödigt lidande” (2§) och ”att djuren ska kunna leva [sic] ett arttypiskt beteende” (4§).

(1) Animals have the right to consideration and respect on their own conditions. (2) To protect the joys and woes of animals is a moral duty for us humans, not the least because we, unlike animals, have the ability for ethical consideration. (3) Unnecessary suffering must be minimized. (4) A society which does not protect the animals' well-being risks also to become a society where the value of vulnerable (utsatta) humans is trampled on. (5) Basic for Swedish animal protection legislation is that animals present i different animal industries should be kept well and have their species-specific needs provided for. (6) This is stated clearly in the opening paragraphs of the Swedish animal protection act: "that animals are not to be subject to unnecessary suffering" (§2) and "that the animals' should be able to live [sic] a species-specific behaviour" (§4).

Applying some of the tools of CDA to each sentence in turn, the following may be noted:

Sentence (1, 2): The party programme clearly states that humans owe nonhumans moral concern and respect. This, not surprisingly, reflects the almost universal recognition of nonhumans as sentient beings with very diverse needs, as well as the unease humans feel about their hierarchical relation to other animals. (Similar statements can be found in all political parties’ programmes. However, we need to note that statements like these, while expressing that nonhumans have moral worth, also work to pre-empt more radical critique.) The processes described are relational, and the use of present tense verbs generate categorical claims like “Animals have the right to…”, and “…it is a moral duty for humans…”. The modality expresses a high affinity to the statements made, and is genre-marking for political programmes, which are all about endorsing the party’s opinions.

The clause "to protect the animals' joys and woes" offers a very strange wording. Surely the author(s) never meant to suggest we are obliged to protect the animals' woes. This may most easily be explained as a simple misuse of the expression. We should note, however, that it is highly unlikely that such a mishandled phrase would have made its way through proof-reading if this had been a paragraph on human rights.

Sentence (3) also contains a categorical modal auxiliary verb: “Unnecessary suffering must be minimized.” However, the sentence is intransitive and set in objective modality, omitting whoever it is that may be causing any unnecessary suffering. Omitted is also any definition of what might constitute necessary suffering. In fact, in Fairclough’s terminology the word “unnecessary” serves the function of “hedging” or toning down of the claim made. While the earlier sentences indicate that humans have responsibility for respecting animals, we learn nothing of the mysterious agent(s) causing unnecessary suffering. This elides the fact that, by and large, the unnecessary suffering is caused by the very same people who were just assigned the duty to treat animals well. Individual and collective human culpability is erased.

“Suffering”, in turn, is a nominalization (or reification) of the process by which someone is made to suffer—by someone. Also, the wording “must be minimized” suggests that while the party programme endorses the very reasonable moral intuition that less suffering is always better than more suffering, there is no ambition to end suffering, since this would entail the abolition of animal industry. Instead, the reader is called upon to subscribe to the idea that human obligations to nonhumans can be fulfilled to satisfaction by minimizing, rather than ending, their suffering. This notion, by the way, lies at the core of the welfare paradigm discussed earlier.

Sentence (4) echoes an argument once made by Kant, to the effect that the only reason for fighting abuse of animals is that such practices may be brutalizing for the humans involved in them. This sentence is interdiscursive, in that it draws on the well-respected discourse of human rights to support the argument for animal protection. (It might also be read as the outcome of a compromise with orthodox Kantian liberals, who would deny animals all inherent value. Alternatively, it could be read as a residue of a progressive liberal stance, acknowledging the intersectionalities between human and nonhuman oppression. Any of these claims would of course have to be backed up by more information about the internal party struggles leading up to the present programme.)

In sentence (5) the theme is that Swedish legislation on animal protection is based on welfare concerns for the nonhuman animals (backed up by quotes from the Animal Protection Act in sentence 6). This assumption is framed as ‘given’ information, and further strengthened by the categorical assertion of the word “is”. (As we have seen, an alternative account could be that animal protection legislation exists primarily to promote the economic welfare of the animal industries, in an age where animal sentience is universally acknowledged and religious arguments for human superiority have lost their credibility.) We can also identify what Fairclough calls an “event process” in sentence 5. The animals in the “animal industries” are simply “present” there (förekommer). They were not put there by someone with some interest in doing so.

Summing up, one could argue that there is a preferred reading of this short text which would go something like this: “The Liberal Party of Sweden cares about animals—as should all of us, for concern of the animals themselves and for our own well-being. Sweden has high welfare standards for animals, which is a good thing. Surely not everything is perfect, but efforts towards minimizing animal suffering will likely solve these problems.”

A CDA reading on the other hand, suggests that there are numerous facts and values taken for granted, and that the text either evades some very important ethical issues or renders them invisible. This, however, does not in any way mean that the text is deliberatively constructed to deceive the reader about the true motives of the author. First of all, we can assume that the programme is an outcome of an internal struggle in the party, where several people and groups have been involved (including external stake-holders, like animal rights organizations and animal industries, with an interest in the outcome). Second, and more importantly, in discourse theory the whole idea of a unified “author” is contested. The focus lies instead on asking which possible meanings can even be articulated within the confines of a given discourse—in this case, the discourse of animal protection—and how much closure of the web of meaning that may be imposed by the historically established hegemonic standard.

My short analysis of this section of the Liberal Party’s programme can of course be contested. It is but one possible interpretation of the text, and over-interpreting is an ever-present pitfall. Ultimately, the validity and reliability claims—if these terms may apply in this type of analysis—of my interpretation would rely on connecting my findings in this text to many other texts and argue persuasively for the presence of various over-arching rules of formation, which systematically excrete some discursive meanings, rather than any of the other alternative meanings innate in language. This attempt at CDA can only serve as a small piece of supporting evidence in that ongoing trial of the culpability of the “conditions of possibility”.

Still, I hope, this brief expose goes to show how some tools of CDA can help reveal some aspects of meaning-making at grammar level, which are not readily available at a swift read-through of this segment of the party’s programme. The main purpose of CDA, as I see it, is to help the analyst to move beyond the preferred reading of the text that a given discourse is interpellating us to perform. As Terry Locke puts it, tracing discursive constructs “makes it easier to engage in acts of dissent—to take issue with these constructions and to resist the storied meanings any text is positioning one to subscribe to” (Locke 2004 p. 6, emphasis in original).


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