“In the beginning, there was difference, and so began the struggle of some individuals to gain advantage over others”[1] Donna Haraway

There is an inherent paradox contained in the relationship between „human” and „animal“. On one hand it involves a variety of features establishing an antagonistic, irresolvable distinctness, or “otherness” of the two, but on the other hand there are areas of overlap, where the two concepts touch and contest each other. Within this field of discursivity it is that we can feel the other aspect of this paradoxical relation most intensely as we are allowed to succumb to our desire to draw near our discursive adversary. In fact, “man” needs the “nonhuman animal” as a complement, as much as an adversary. As every given power relationship requires some framing in order to reproduce its legitimacy [2], the humankind, as a discursive entity, heavily relies on reinforcing the demarcation line towards nonhuman elements, i.e. nature, “the” animal etc.

Therefore, my hypothesis throughout my posts will be that we humans discriminate non-human animals as a means of (re-)producing the identity of the human species and securing their legitimacy by emphasising the differences between human and animal, i.e. by using the discursive mechanism of Othering[3]. I will understand Othering as „a process of differentiation and demarcation, by which the line is drawn between ´us´ and ´them´ – between the more and the less powerful – and through which social distance is established and maintained”[4], referring to a definition by sociologist Ruth Lister. The narratives in which these differences are expressed can therefore be seen as origin stories for the human identity[5].

Why though, if hegemonic imbalances are inherent to the constitution of identity, why should one even strive to deconstruct a concept so fundamental to our comprehension of the world, to our ability to manage our everyday-lives? I want to argue with Donna Haraway that it can help to retell narratives in order “to shift the webs of intertextuality and to facilitate perhaps new possibilities for the meanings of difference, reproduction, and survival […] on both sides of the bio-political and cultural divide between human and animal.”[6]. By displacing hegemonic structures and highlighting marginalisations within the discourse, we may open up new possibilities for redefining the identity of the human self.

I find it rather questionable, whether the othering of the nonhuman animal leading to exploitation and suffering of a multitude of beings in favour of satisfying human needs and comforts, really should be necessary to define what is human. Is it not ironic, that, while our notions of animals and nature are so deeply sedimented as inferior, less worthy and subordinate to us, on the other hand, the concept of humanity is connoted as that which inspires kindness, empathy and compassion?

However, if we view the concept of “nature” – here translated into “species” as the object of knowledge of consequence – within its respective cultural and historical context, i.e. taking away its universal, naturalistic and timeless connotation, we might find that this strategy of othering may no longer be necessary in order to reproduce the human identity. As feminist Donna Haraway puts it:

“When the human-animal boundary is not culturally crucial, two things change […]: First, „nature“ cannot be constructed as a health spa for the ills of industrial society” and, secondly, “the reliability of scientific knowledge does not depend on enforcing the boundary against the forbidden desire of touch with nature”.[7]

Stated in a more intuitive fashion, I want to look at why, when we are children we feel drawn to animals, we empathise with them, we feel connected to them; yet, as we grow up, we get taught to eat them, to wear them, to torture them or simply not to care about them – that we are superior to them and that they do not deserve our love, respect or even our compassion. It is quite curious, that we seem to think, that, in order to be, we must sacrifice the integrity of other beings. Or, to put it in the words of Pam Ahern, a pioneer in advocating kindness towards nonhuman animals, I have often been wondering:

“If we could live happy and healthy lives, without harming others – why wouldn´t we?”[8]

[1] Haraway 1989: 376.
[2] Noakes/Johnston 2005: 18.
[3] The discourse-theoretical concept of Othering was first used by Gayatri Spivak deconstructing british archive material in postcolonial India in 1985.
[4] Lister 2004: 101.
[5] Cf. Haraway 1989: 288f. for the significance of origin stories.
[6] Haraway 1989: 377.
[7] Haraway 1989: 247.
[8] Pam Ahern is the founder of “Edgars Mission”, a farm sanctuary in Australia.

Haraway, Donna (1990): Primate Visions. Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. Routledge.

Lister, Ruth (2004): Poverty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Noakes, John A. and Johnston, Hank (2005): Frames of protest: A road map to a perspec-tive. In: Hank Johnston and John A. Noakes: Frames of protest. 18, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1985): The Rani of Sirmur: An Essay in Reading the Archive. Histroy and Theory, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Oct. 1985): 247-272.