Listening to the Voices of Animals Who Resist Exploitation
Sarat Colling offers a landmark scholarly book about animals and society.
Posted December 1, 2020
"At the heart of the book is a focus on the importance of listening to animals’ voices, making our best efforts to read their actions, and responding in solidarity to their resistance struggles...The absence of visible resistance doesn’t imply satisfaction. Life in captivity can lead to hopelessness." —Sarat Colling
Sarat Colling's new book Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era is a well-researched, extremely unique, and highly readable work that surely will appeal to a broad global audience interested in human-nonhuman relationships (anthrozoology).1,2 It reminds me of other highly original books on similar topics, and I'm thrilled that Sarat was able to answer a few questions about her latest project.3
Why did you write Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era?
Animals have resisted oppression for as long as human consumerism and politics have disrupted their lives. Yet, their resistance often goes unrecorded. I wrote this book to record some of their important stories and to amplify these animals’ voices.
Animals’ resistance occurs in response to their exploitation in a modern capitalist society, where their lives and bodies are rendered commodities through institutionalized violence or dispossessed through widespread habitat destruction. Resistance narratives play an important role in social progress, and nonhuman animals have many stories that need to be heard.
A cow, later named Emily, escaped a slaughterhouse, inspired an underground network of supporters, and found lifelong refuge at an abbey. After enduring the abuses of circus life, an elephant named Tyke fled the circus, pursued by police as she ran through the streets until she was killed by 86 gunshots. The infamous sperm whale Mocha Dick rammed a whaling ship to avenge the deaths of his kin and save the surviving whales. Such stories inspire contemplation on the plight of captive and free-living animals and reveal how they struggle for freedom. This book takes these acts of resistance seriously and calls for humans to work in solidarity with animals’ fight for liberation.
Who is your intended audience?
Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era is written to engage academics, activists, and the general public. As such, it will appeal to those interested in animals’ lives and who wish to learn more about how their agency manifests as resistance. A decade ago, there were a fraction of the viral stories of animal escapes or documentaries about animal rebels that proliferate today. Now, thanks to advocacy efforts, these stories abound across the social media landscape, notably since the documentary Blackfish heightened awareness about animal resistance and the plight of animals in captivity through the orca Tilikum’s story.
The book will resonate with those interested in cognitive ethology, an area of study dedicated to understanding animals’ rich social, cultural, and emotional lives. Many nonhuman animals possess traits once thought unique to humans, like empathy or revenge (e.g., as described in your book Wild Justice). When they escape, animals can challenge unscientific assumptions about their species, such as beliefs that domesticated cows can’t survive in the wild or that chickens don’t roost in trees.
As a scholarly text, the book is well-suited for students rethinking our relationships with other animals in areas like critical animal studies, human-animal studies, animals and society, global social change, and political ecology. It is also one of very few academic works that explicitly theorize animal resistance, and so should be of interest to scholars working on related issues.
What are some of the topics you weave into your book, and what are some of your major messages?
At the heart of the book is a focus on the importance of listening to animals’ voices, making our best efforts to read their actions, and responding in solidarity to their resistance struggles. The book begins with an introductory overview of some of the shifting perspectives humans have held towards other animals across time and space and how animal agency has influenced these perspectives. The following chapters are divided into three parts examining themes related to the “why,” “how,” and “to what ends (and beginnings)” animals resist. I weave together stories of animal rebels, primarily from the 19th century to the present day, in a social justice framework that acknowledges the mutual constitution of species, race, gender, class, and disability in relation to power.
The book is attentive to how the intertwined processes of domestication, colonization, and capitalism have shaped our relationships with other animals and the spaces they (are often forced to) inhabit. A central theme is how animal resistance interrupts the purposeful distancing between consumers and the violence of animal industries. Threaded together with the accounts of animals resisting are the effects of their resistance and how they influenced society.
For instance, Tilikum’s and Tyke’s stories exemplify powerful outcomes of resistance. Blackfish prompted public scrutiny of SeaWorld and orca captivity, with policy changes and profit loss for the corporation ensuing. When Tyke’s resistance was broadcast globally, her story inspired protests, boycotts, and lawsuits directed at circuses. The city of Honolulu never hosted another circus with wild animals or elephants. Within several years, all elephants were removed from the Hawthorn Corporation, a once-notorious supplier of animals (including Tyke) for the entertainment industry.
How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?
There are very few book-length works that address the topic of animal resistance. This book differs from previous works by explicitly theorizing animal resistance and framing the discussion through an intersectional feminist lens. It is also unique in including 50 images relating to animal resistance, offering insights from sanctuary workers that aid in understanding animals’ agency, and noting some of the earliest documented forms of animal resistance. In the current climate of momentous progressive social movements, it provides a timely discussion of resistance and solidarity across species lines.
Are you hopeful that things will change for the better as people ponder what you're asking them to do?
Stories of animal resistance in the news and on social media have already inspired many to consider individual animals’ agency and plight. Yet, the number of animals exploited to fuel capitalist society continues to grow. This book situates those who are often viewed as exceptional animals in a much broader landscape of animal resistance struggles and calls for a fundamental acknowledgment of and response to the myriad ways animals are harmed by humans. For change to happen, we must abolish the capitalist logics that render animals commodities and property.
My hope is that the book will contribute to the animal rights movement by encouraging progress away from savior narratives towards a recognition that animals are active participants in their liberation movement. While taking actions to help them, animal advocates can amplify and elevate animals’ voices (exhorting others to listen to them), which helps demonstrate that nonhuman animals are individuals, not products. By acting in solidarity, we build a foundation on which to create a multispecies social justice dialog and build bridges for collective liberation.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?
Animals in farms, markets, slaughterhouses, laboratories, aquariums, nets, and show tents sometimes become highly visible when they resist. Their lives become imbued with all sorts of value and meaning. Unfortunately, while many can sympathize with those who break free, the billions of individuals who remain captive continue to suffer without a public outcry. When a cow or sheep flees a slaughterhouse, they are commonly reported in the mainstream media as having “earned” their freedom. These reports insinuate that the runaway is more deserving of life than those who didn’t break free. But the reality is that not all are in a position to resist, and most (if not all) would escape conditions of exploitation if they could.
The absence of visible resistance doesn’t imply satisfaction. Life in captivity can lead to hopelessness, such as when a cow no longer has the strength to fight back after years of humans taking away her calves and her milk. Her plight, like that of all animals, needs to be taken seriously. The wide variation in animals’ energy and capacities for resistance makes human solidarity across species lines all the more important. From networking and protesting on their behalf, assisting with their bids for liberation, supporting sanctuaries where liberated animals can find refuge, and eschewing the products of suffering, there are many actions we can take for animals struggling for freedom and for those whose stories have yet to be shared.
1) Sarat Colling is a writer, activist, and critical animal studies scholar. She works as the program director for the Hornby Island Natural History Centre on Hornby Island, British Columbia. She is the author of Animali in Rivolta, Chickpea Runs Away, Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era, and contributions to several critical animal studies anthologies. Her focus on the topic of animal resistance began with an MA thesis in Critical Sociology titled “Animals Without Borders: Farmed Animal Resistance in New York.” Sarat has volunteered with various animal advocacy and vegan organizations since becoming vegan in 2004. Her current projects include a mobile animal advocacy library and a local vegan guide.
2) The book's description reads, "The concept of animal resistance is now reaching a wide audience across the social media landscape. Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era offers an overview of how animals resist human orderings in the context of capitalism, domestication, and colonization. Exploring this understudied phenomenon, this book is attentive to both the standpoints of animal resisters and the ways they are represented in human society. Together, these lenses provide insight into how animals' resistance disrupts the dominant paradigm of human exceptionalism and the distancing strategies of enterprises that exploit animals for profit. Animals have been relegated to the margins by human spatial and ideological orderings, but they are also the subjects of their own struggle, located at the center of their liberation movement. Well-researched and accessible, with over fifty images that aid in understanding both the experiences of and responses to animals who resist, Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era is an important contribution to scholarship on animals and society. The text will appeal to a broad audience interested in the relationships between humans and the other animals with whom we share this planet."
3) Bekoff, Marc. Impersonating Animals: Speciesism, Rhetoric, and Ecofeminism. (S. Marek Muller writes on race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability.)
_____. Animaladies: Gender, Animals, and Madness. (An interview about a unique book on oppression and marginalization.)
_____. "Baby Hers": All Babies Belong With Their Mothers. (An interview with filmmaker Susan Rosenzweig on the hidden horrors of dairy.)
_____. Conservation Science Shouldn't Be All About Us. (David Johns writes about freeing Earth and other species from human domination.)
_____. Green Criminology: Widespread Caring Means Justice For All. (Green criminology, One Health, and compassionate conservation have common goals.)
Hribal, Jason. Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance. CounterPunch, 2010.