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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“I would prefer not to” : nonhuman animal resistance and the language of speciesism Wafler, Leah


Substantial scholarship on nonhuman cognition suggests that the animals we exploit are consciously aware of their own experiences, whether they be of pain or pleasure. Yet, there is a prevailing assumption that these beings are not aware of and do not resist against their own abuse, which provides convenient language for justifying the atrocities of the factory farming and animal entertainment industries. Through disingenuous public relations strategies, these industries convince the public all is well, while the animals themselves, and their agencies, are concealed from view. However, when nonhumans escape, attack, or even kill humans complicit in their domination, cognitive hoop jumping becomes evident, illustrating distinct conceptual difficulties in consolidating visibly agential actions of animals with their dominant representations as passive and disinterested in their exploitation. In this way, nonhumans’ resistant actions bring to light vulnerabilities in the Western status quo’s speciesist visage. Firmly situated in the field of Critical Animal Studies (CAS), my thesis engages with several case studies of nonhumans who escape captivity or attack humans to argue that not only do animals resist agentially but also that the dominant language used to represent their resistance is speciesist and must be problematized by a purposeful recognition of nonhuman agency. First, I analyze three cases of escaped cows in terms of the distancing strategies at play in the media and public response. Following, I explore the discourse of captive animal resistance by looking at the controversy surrounding Tilikum the orca and his involvement in the deaths of three humans. Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates the significance of and acts as a starting point for tracking the various distancing strategies and narratives in Western discourses on nonhuman resistance.

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