Animal Studies Bibliography

Beirne, Piers. 1995. The use and abuse of animals in criminology: A brief history and current review. Social Justice 22 (1): 5-31.

Animal abuse has been generally ignored as an area of study by criminologists. Animals, however, are involved in 4 major ways in criminological literature. First, the notion of animals as criminals and criminals as animals. Animals have for centuries been believed to be capable of crime and throughout history have been tried and punished or executed, through regular court proceedings, for those crimes. It was also believed that animals themselves held courts to try members of their own species for their crimes. These beliefs were connected to the belief of social evolutionists like Lombroso that human criminals were atavistic (had animal characteristics). People born criminals were believed to be closer to their animal heritage than were normal people.

Second, animals appear in the criminological literature as partners to human crime. This relationship includes a range of behaviors, such as cockfighting, using a horse to make a getaway, or bestiality and witchcraft. Accusations of bestiality and witchcraft were generally heavily laden with religious meanings, and both human and animal were executed. Part of this religious activity was part of the general attempt of the period to maintain control over the “social and natural worlds”; in this context, “animals were a form of life that presented a challenge no less threatening than other marginal beings like women and Jews” (9). Little attention has been given in the literature to understanding “deviant human/animal relationships” like bestiality (10).

Third, the 1970s saw a resurgence of sociobiology and a return of animals to criminological literature in the form of analogies between humans and animals, or biocriminology. Animals fill two roles in biocriminological argument. First, they are sued to represent what human nature, or what human behavior would be without the imposition of morality, created by language and the family. Second, animal behavior is extrapolated to explain human behavior, particularly human crime. One reason for such extrapolation is the belief that both animals and humans are guided by the behavioral dictates of natural selection (efforts to gain resources, survive and reproduce). These extrapolations are highly problematic because they ignore subjective aspects of crime and assume survival imperatives are the only relevant cause of deviance.

Fourth, animals in criminology are objects that play some role in human relationships. In these cases animals may be property (infringed upon, damaged, or stolen; distributed for profit as with meat; existing as status symbols), weapons (attack dogs; abuse of another's pet as a way of hurting that person, often in domestic violence cases; to scare children into compliance/silence), or as signifiers of the violence between humans (by “assaultive children”--children who abuse animals--and aggressive adults who were assaultive). These areas of inquiry remain relatively unexplored and anecdotal. More importantly, in all cases the animals are described only as part of the human situation, and no attention is given to their pain and suffering. Criminology has been speciesist, using “anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism, the twin bastions of speciesism” (23). Sociology must begin to theorize animal abuse, which is parallel to the abuse of women and people of color.



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