This article excavates the role that anticruelty statutes played in civilizational thinking both in the metropole and in the colonies, and the residual impact of their early civilizational rationale in contemporary jurisprudence. In doing so, it explores how laws directed at cruelty to animals have helped sustain a discourse of civilization that cuts across and animates hierarchical logics of race, religion, class, and gender. This analysis, then, underscores a different problem with anticruelty laws than what animal law scholars have emphasized. This more familiar critique stresses the inefficacy of these laws in preventing animal suffering, labeling them “welfarist” because of their mandate to regulate animal exploitation rather than prevent it. The analysis adds to this critique, pointing out the severe shortcomings of anticruelty laws by focusing on the imperial underpinnings of these welfarist laws. The article first discusses the emergence of anticruelty statutes in the common law and their impact in reinforcing the civilizing mission with respect to both domestic and colonial populations through a legislative purpose that can be properly understood only by reference to race, religious, class, and gender dynamics. The article then reveals how the civilizing purposes of anticruelty statutes continue to shape contemporary anticruelty jurisprudence in ways that domesticate populations marginalized by race, class, culture, and religion. In tracing the contributions of anticruelty laws to civilization discourses, the analysis highlights the selective register by which these laws function, namely, effectively targeting minoritized practices and immunizing majoritarian ones. In highlighting the imperial attributes of welfarist laws, the article seeks to contribute to the literature exploring the intersections between speciesism and other forms of socially constructed difference.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 515-548
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.