Animal rights & human identity: a polemical quest for authenticity

Document Type

Thesis or Capstone Project

Publication Date



This thesis examines the hypothesis that The conflict between animal advocates and animal users is far more than a matter of contrasting tastes or interests. Opposing world views, concepts of identity, ideas of community, are all at stake' (Jasper & Nelkin 1992, 7). It is based on a year of anthropological fieldwork with a group of animal rights activists. The aim of the study is to develop an understanding of how these activists construct and experience community and a personal and shared identity which reflects their own world view which is in contestation with that of mass society, whilst remaining part of mass society. Analysis of activists' life histories and their discourse and practice highlights the activists attempts to negotiate a discrete identity of themselves through a sense of community in their interactions with mass society, using animals to think themselves authentically human. This analysis contextualises Levi-Strauss's proposition that 'animals are good to think' within post-industrial Britain and links the activists's search for difference to an existential angst created by the conditions of contemporary life. Ever expanding communications in the post-industrial world present individuals with many opportunities for expressing identities of differing kinds in differing situations, but animal rights activists exhibit a need for structure and constancy in the formation of identity. They are reacting against a world where the constant and knowable appear redundant. The narratives and actions of the activists are investigated highlighting the areas of community, personal and shared identity and world view by analysis of their processes of rejection, reformation, construction and competency in their search for an authentic sense of identity predicated upon their own model of authentic humanness. It is contextualized within a background of the continuing discourse over the condition of humanity beginning with the periods of industrialisation and urbanisation of modem Britain.


Thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Social Anthropology