Social Justice and the Animal Question

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This special issue on "Social Justice and the Animal Question" explores the connections between the oppression of animals and broader issues of social injustice. Over the past two decades, sociologists have begun to examine the roles that animals play in various social contexts (e.g., Alger and Alger 2003; Arluke 2006; Arluke and Sanders 1996; Brandt 2004; Fitzgerald 2005; Flynn 2000a, b; Irvine 2004; Kalof, Fitzgerald, and Baralt 2004; Sanders 1999; Scarce 2000). Indeed, there are a great many roles to examine. If we could somehow remove animals and animal products from human society, life as we know it would cease. Animals are everywhere. Nearly 60 percent of American households include pets, and most people think of the animals as family members or companions (AVMA 2002). Between 10 and 15 million Americans support at least one animal welfare group (Jasper and Nelkin 1992). Animals are in the foods most people eat, as well as in clothing and shoes. We can find animals all around the house in cosmetics, soap, toiletries, medications, and in the labs that test these products. Animal products are in the house itself in drywall, linoleum, wallpaper and carpet adhesive, and paints, just to start the list. "Animal Planet," the hugely popular television channel devoted to animalthemed programs, features shows that range from "Animal Cops" to "Meerkat Manor." Animal influences appear in our language. As Clifton Bryant (1979) pointed out, we can describe someone as "pig-headed," "stubborn as a mule, "gentle as a lamb," or "strong as an ox." We might "bark up the wrong tree," wear a "pony tail," be "sly as a fox," "catty," or a "lame duck." The analogies and metaphors abound, revealing a strong zoological influence on culture. Animals have assisted people in tasks ranging from hearing and seeing to plowing fields and waging war. Finally, animals figure heavily in many social problems, from dog bites to disease outbreaks to concern over endangered species.