Skip to content

Uncivilising the Future: Imagining Non-Speciesism

Westerlaken, M. (2017). Uncivilizing the Future: Imagining Non-Speciesism. Antae – Special Issue on Utopian Perspectives4(1), 53-67

Westerlaken presents a reflective piece on the development of a utopia which sees past species taxonomy, not as a demonstration of post-structuralist thinking, but as a political act. Following the study of a Critical Animal Studies course, Westerlaken writes a personal narrative of ‘weak theory’, framing a series of changes (such as a conversion to veganism), and her work as an artist, as a political stance against Speciesism.

The work draws on a number of key design pieces, alongside her own game design, as political stances against species categories and reflections on our relationship to other animals. Westenlaken asks “what does a non-speciesist future actually look like? Given that animal oppression is deeply embedded and normalised in society today, how can we even start imagining a future that is so fundamentally different from today’s world?” (p54). The paper presents a counter-narrative to capitalist ‘progress’ of civilising and argues for a series of political gestures to counter the civilising process of cruelty to animals excused through species taxonomies.

Key Quotes

“Here we should not only radically rethink the foundational aspects of society and question what is not commonly questioned, but we also need to make space for a multiplicity of theories, knowledges, disciplines, and practices that are already developing, and draw inspiration from those. We are not looking for a single “best” solution. The world consists of diverse inhabitants and surprising engagements; so rather than reinforcing one dominant perspective that gains power once again, we need to move towards a space for freedom, possibilities, and coexistence. This will allow us to imagine worlds in which we enact, construct, learn, and adapt, rather than resist, comply, and oppress.” (p54)

“I wish to emphasise that artists, rather than solely criticising the past and present, have the complementary power to imagine, create, and try out futures. As artists, we can contribute to shaping different—so called uncivilised—worlds.” (p56)

“I propose that we need to complement critical thought by trying to imagine the potential shape in which non-speciesist futures could exist among other futures seeking to abandon oppression and violence. Worlds in which we can allow ourselves to listen to—and be inspired by—the marginalised of the marginalised and, perhaps, the most uncivilised of all: the animal.” (p56)

“Graham-Gibson proposes three different ways in which alternative practices can be brought to light: an ontological reframing that enlarges the field from which the unexpected can emerge, reading for difference rather than dominance to recover what has been rendered ‘non-credible’ and ‘non-existent’ by dominant modes of thought, and valuing creative thinking as a way of generating possibilities.” (p58)

“it is only through feeling that I found out that imagining other lives and developing empathy is so crucial to perceiving and being in the world, even if this means that I need to get rid of the comfortable notions with which I have habitually protected myself in the past.” (p60)

“I learn that I do not necessarily have to speak for the animal or generalise their traits and compare those with human abilities, because the animal can speak for herself, even if I cannot always understand her. I feel that it is more helpful to find alternative ways of listening that respond to—and respect—the animal’s otherness.” (p61)

“in thinking about utopian futures as artists, the moments of shared joy with animals are perhaps most inspiring, as they could lead to new ideas about the lives that animals themselves envision. These ideas could then cause more resistance in the political, cultural, economic, and social realms; and shift our perception of animals as a commodity to equally free agents that do not necessarily need any pity from humans.” (p61)

“Haraway writes that, through shared encounters such as ‘play’, we experience and discover degrees of freedom and possibilities to develop intuitive and bodily understandings between humans and animals. These kinds of activities form a shared context where our relationships can continuously be negotiated.” (p61)

“When play arises between humans and animals, we explore alternative scenarios, practice our sensitivity, develop empathy, and try out different realities together with the animal.” (p61)

“These playful ways of being in the world together with animals, could help us to imagine different realities that place humans and animals on a more equal footing.” (p62)

“Using the design artefact as a conversation piece, this project invites us to rethink and speculate about our relationships with farm animals through playful encounters as a form of ‘doing multispecies philosophy’” (p62)




Published inPhD