Animals & Other Forms of Oppression

Little Bird

A Critical Animal Studies Blog Series (2/4)

In my previous post I discussed the term speciesism and questioned what a non-speciesist approach in my research could mean. In this post I will suggest how we could use theories from other forms of oppression to think about our relationships with animals.


The term intersectionality refers to overlapping systems of oppression, discrimination, and domination, which are all interlinked. In other words, this theory invites us to think about how things like racism, sexism, classism, and speciesism are connected: they exist on the same premises, they are built on each other, and they are influencing each other.

In her 1988 book The Dreaded Comparison, Marjorie Spiegel illustrates a range of startling similarities between human and animal slavery. Comparing speciesism with racism might sound insulting at first, but then we see the examples: removing children from their parents, similar means of transporting, the unhealthy living conditions, the hunting down of escaped individuals, experimentation on their bodies, and the list goes on.


But the similarities between different forms of oppression do not stop there. If we look at systems of oppression based on gender (particularly regarding women), we see that in a patriarchal society both “animals, and women are objectified, hunted, invaded, colonised, owned, consumed, and forced to yield and produce” (Collard, 1988).

Furthermore, we can see that these different forms of oppression are interrelated and not separable. Meaning that the stereotypical image of the oppressor and the oppressed is shared between things like gender, race, or class. Some examples:

  • Trophy hunters are most often white males that aim to shoot the biggest animal, which is usually a male (Kalof and Fitzgerald, 2003);
  • Most meat and farm animals are females, while most butchers and farmers are males (Calvo, 2008);
  • 84-98% of the animal cruelty cases in the US are committed by men (Herzog, 2011);
  • Farm animals are usually bred specifically according to characteristics like docile, affectionate, good mothers, and dependent, which are often assigned to value women too (ibid);
  • Farming and butchering labour are usually considered as jobs for a lower class in western society and the culture of meat eating is deeply entangled in manifestations of class and privilege. (Here you can find a more elaborate essay on this topic)

Please note that these are statements related to extreme engagements with animal oppression. In society we can also find numerous examples that contradict with these stereotypes. However the most important insight for me here is that the more we break down different forms of oppression and their relationships with each other, the more we see this:

“Any oppression helps to prop up other forms of oppression. This is why it is vital to link oppressions in our minds, to look for the common, shared aspects, and fight against them as one, rather than prioritising victim’s suffering (the ‘either-or’ pitfall). For when we prioritise we are in effect becoming one with the oppressor. We are deciding that one individual or group is more important than another, deciding that one individual’s pain is ‘less important’ than that of the next.” (Spiegel, 1996, p.30).

In other words, if you are against the oppression of human beings, it becomes particularly appropriate and important to extend the field of concern to animals (Selby, 1995). Or perhaps as philosopher Albert Schweitzer noted (including my adaptation): “Until he [we] extends the circle of his compassion to include all living things, man [we] will not himself find peace.” (Schweitzer, 1987, originally published in 1923). I would even go as far as saying that in this logic, it becomes a paradox to say that you are against things like racism or sexism, while putting a burger in your mouth. Yes, I just said that out loud and I mean it.

Anyway… what does this have to do with my research?

I think that if we wish to aim for a non-speciesist approach and aspire to improve animal welfare with our own research, we should position our discussions in the same field of critical theory that has informed other forms of oppression. Since the topic of oppression is widely discussed and researched across disciplines, existing insights are very relevant in finding answers to some of the questions we raise and can help to advance our field.

While looking at animals, play, and technology in specific, we could regard how fields like games studies, human computer interaction, or design based research have critically engaged with the topic of oppression in the past (for example through fields like critical games/design, serious games, speculative design, and design fiction) and how they aim to contribute to a better future for the oppressed. Additionally, if the aim of our research is to include animals in our research in order to figure out what sort of design artefact they would want, it might help to learn from existing projects that similarly aim to give a voice to ‘the oppressed’ in other contexts. You can find some interesting examples here, herehere, here, here, here and here.

In the next post I will discuss more about providing the animal with their own agency, a voice that we can listen to.

The picture in this post was taken by Alex Camilleri on our trip to Helsinki in the fall of 2014, where we met some beautiful city-animals.


Collard, A. (1988). Rape of the Wild. Man’s Violence Against Animals and the Earth, Women’s Press, 1.

Herzog, H. (2011). Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Kalof, L., and Firzgerald, A. (2003). Reading the trophy: Exploring the display of dead animals in hunting magazines. Visual Studies, 18(2), p. 112-122.

Schweitzer, A. (1987). The Philosophy of Civilization. (Translation of Kulturphilosophie). New York, NY: Prometheurs Books.

Selby, D. (1995). Circles of compassion: Animals, race, and gender. In Selby, D. Earthkind: A Teacher’s Handbook on Humane Education, p. 17-32. Stroke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Spiegel, M. (1996). The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. New York, NY: Mirror Books. In Selby, D. (1995). Circles of compassion: Animals, race, and gender. In Selby, D. Earthkind: A Teacher’s Handbook on Humane Education, p. 17-32. Stroke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham Books

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