Schools and universities are hardly known as being at the forefront of social transformation work, especially not for animal liberation. In our neoliberal times the case is quite the opposite: Formal education institutions make alliances with the animal-industrial complex for the promotion of animal products through films, books, farm visits with free food samples, advertising, vending machines, sponsorships, and even the delivery of complete pedagogical plans tailored to fit with the school curriculum. In animal science departments in higher education, corporate “partnership” often becomes even more conspicuous as agribusiness representatives sometimes run their own university courses, and faculty members may uphold board positions in meat, dairy, or fodder corporations1 Universities commonly keep their own animal research laboratories on their premises2 and students at various levels are taught to objectify animals through dissection or vivisection exercises in biology classes, through the standard meat and dairy-based meals served in the school canteen, and through multiple other messages communicated by the formal and hidden curricula (Gunnarsson Dinker & Pedersen 2016; Pedersen 2010).3 This situation is not surprising, if we think about the education system as a societal actor that reproduces all sorts of societal power arrangements, upholds the status quo of normative orders and ideologies such as speciesism, and socializes us all to become docile and compliant citizens (read: consumers). Critical educators (myself included) have challenged this state of affairs by developing courses and course modules in critical animal studies.4
There are, however, other examples of education for animal liberation that don’t rely on the establishment of critical animal studies courses, nor on the non-formal collective learning taking place within animal advocacy organizations (including campus groups for animal rights). The two examples I will bring up here start from another position: Individual activist-students who, through creative interventions in their education, transform their respective education programs into a quite different and radical space.
In my discussion of these examples, I will first bring out a few key ideas of the relation between theory and practice in social justice struggle generally, drawing on the work of culture theorist Gerald Raunig.5 Secondly, I will tell the stories of two activists (”Adrian” and ”Emma”) whom I have followed in my research, and apply Raunig’s thoughts to what is going on in the educational spaces that these two activists occupy. Thirdly, I will reflect on how this particular ”encounter” between critical theory and activist practice may help us trace a revolutionary potential in formal education. I will begin with briefly outlining the theoretical ideas I will soon put to work.
Theory and practice as ”machines” driving social justice struggles
In 2008, Gerald Raunig published a paper on the place of critique in social struggles (What is Critique? Suspension and Recomposition in Textual and Social Machines), where he argues that theory (”text”) and practice (”struggle”) are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary components of the same action that work toward the same goal. For instance, political practice can be used as an intensifier of thought, and theoretical analysis may be approached as a multiplier of forms and domains of political intervention.6 Understood in this way, ”theory” is also a form of practice and a political act, and can, in certain compositions, be revolutionary. Raunig sees theory and praxis as complementary textual and social machines. Here, a ”machine” is not only a technical device. It is in broader terms a dynamic composition, large or small, of, for instance, humans, animals, objects, ideas, and affects, that may come together for a moment or for a longer period of time to produce certain effects in real life.
How can these ideas be made useful for education? What are the textual and social machines in education for animal liberation? How do they work together? What are their combined potential, and what can they achieve? While Raunig uses historical examples of dissent to make his point, I will, as mentioned above, bring up contemporary experiences from my own research with activist-students (”Adrian” and ”Emma”).
At a vegan fair some years ago I came across a book collection of autobiographical essays by animal rights activists of different ages and backgrounds. One essay in particular captured my attention: the story of an undercover worker who had devoted not only his spare time, but his whole educational career, to prepare himself for a ”profession” that does not formally exist: undercover work in animal research laboratories. ”Adrian,” as this activist calls himself, had, as a teenager, decided to apply to a vocational animal caretaker education program in upper secondary school, a program which prepares students for practice-based animal handling jobs in, for instance, animal research labs, pet shops, and zoos. Adrian enrolled in this program, with the intention to gain the formal credentials (and knowledge) required to get access to the otherwise closed facilities of the animal experimentation enterprise. Adrian’s story fascinated me. After some checking around, it turned out that Adrian was already in my network of contacts, although I didn’t know him personally. I got in touch with him and he agreed to an interview. What follows is a very brief account of his story.
After Adrian embarked on his animal caretaker education, he began to develop his own hidden agenda, in parallel with the formal curriculum imposed by his school. This hidden agenda consisted in preparing himself for future undercover work, in both theory and practice, with which the formal curriculum of his educational program unintentionally provided him plenty of opportunities. At this point, Gerald Raunig’s7 two machines – the textual machine and the social machine – started to operate through Adrian’s learning process: The textual machine worked through the knowledge production process that was, in the way Adrian carried out his daily school activities, totally reoriented toward animals’ liberation rather than their sustained exploitation. Adrian took every chance to learn about animal experimentation, with the hidden objective of becoming a skillful undercover worker.
The social machine worked by providing the animal liberation group Adrian was affiliated with new forms of direct action8 made possible through Adrian’s education, as well as detailed knowledge about what kind of animal experiments are carried out and how, and insight into the conditions under which these animals are kept. While still a student, during his internship periods at animal research labs (compulsory elements of the animal caretaker program at that time), and also after graduation when he got hired as a lab employee, he secretly documented animals and experimentation procedures, as well as rescued animals from the labs. Outside his formal education, Adrian also engaged in non-formal education, when he himself took on the teacher role and organized courses for aspiring and novice undercover workers in the animal liberation movement – courses that, according to Adrian, accommodated both a theoretical and a practice-based part.9 In these clandestine educational activities, where Adrian’s accumulated experience and expertise as a professional and activist merge, disseminate and multiply, textual and social machines assemble so as to become one and the same machine. According to Raunig10, this is a point when social justice struggles work most effectively.
Adrian’s example may be viewed as somewhat extraordinary. Most animal liberation activists may not be in a position to devote their entire education to their advocacy work, but will have to choose more conventional career paths, keeping their activism in a largely separate space. Nevertheless, the two machines – the textual and the social machine – should both be at work in animal liberation struggles, whose effectivity may rely on how well synchronized they are. My next example comes from higher education.
”Emma” is another activist-student I have followed in my research. When I met her, she was about to decide on a topic for her BSc thesis work in ethology. Her plan was to carry out a rather unusual ethological field study: In order to gain first-hand experience of life in the pig production industry, she wanted to move into a pig crate in a commercial slaughter swine facility and share the pigs’ life and daily routines, 24 hours a day, during a month. In addition to her ethological research questions, such as what kind of relations between pigs and a human can be developed in such an environment, and how the material and social life conditions offered by the modern pig production system affect the individual held in captivity there, Emma also wanted her project to challenge the low status animal behavior scientists tend to ascribe to domestic animals (such as pigs) as compared to wild animals (such as wolves). She told me her plans were inspired by the primatologist Jane Goodall’s ethological methods. Ultimately, Emma hoped that the knowledge gained from her project would be useful for animal advocacy work, as she would be able to disseminate insights about life in a pig crate from direct experience from ”the floor”; that is, tell a story that the pigs themselves are unable to tell.11
Emma’s plans for her BSc thesis project were, after negotiations with the department faculty, disapproved (although she was supported by one open-minded professor, who agreed that Emma’s unusual research design could be viewed as something equivalent to a ”deep interview” with the pigs).12 Thus, Emma has to change her plans. She ends up in a far less controversial project adhering to the conventional criteria of the ethological sciences: A behavioral study with hens (a so-called ”cognitive bias” test), designed to study emotional states of animals by the use of different cues. Emma carries out her field study in a facility housing former battery hens, purchased from a commercial farm, to investigate if hens seem to look more positively on life after a number of months in remarkably improved living conditions (littered, enriched pens as compared to their previous life in battery cages).
Although this field study is the ”second choice” for Emma, also this project is part of her larger activist agenda: She needs empirical data to back up the claim that battery cages have a detrimental effect not only on the physical, but also on the psychological wellbeing of the hens; information that can be used for animal advocacy purposes. Moreover, included in her research design already from the outset is the subsequent rescue and re-homing of the 33 hens participating in her project, who would otherwise be scheduled for euthanization by the staff the following week. Thus, in the weekend after Emma finished her field study, she arranges with a couple of friends to bring a car to move the hens to a new home.13
A week later, Emma sends me an email with an attached photo of the (now free-ranging) hens in the garden of their new home, reporting that the rescue has been successful. Although Emma’s thesis advisor does not consider it appropriate to mention the hen rescue in the thesis, Emma includes the following brief text (accompanied by two pictures) in the ”Ethical considerations” section of her final BSc thesis:
After the study was completed, all 33 hens were rehomed to a private home in the country with outdoor access and rooster company, where they will be able to lead the rest of their lives regardless of their utility for humans.
The university thus stopped Emma’s project plans of co-habiting with farmed pigs, but her textual and social machines were already at work, and unstoppable: she re-assembled them and made one machine (the textual machine of knowledge production of her thesis) work in seamless synchronicity with the other (the social machine of the hen rescue action). The immediate aim of liberation of the 33 hens was successfully achieved, as well as her scientific and activist contribution to the more long-term goal of abolishing the egg production industry as such.
Learning from Adrian and Emma: The uncontrollability of education
Raunig14 points out that the understanding of critique illustrated by his historical examples – and my own contemporary ones outlined above – as a connection of textual and social machines, follows a different mode than the opposition to the power of capitalism, which was central to the Marxian concept of critique in the 19th century. But also in Marx we find the idea of theory as a (potential) material force to be put to work alongside revolutionary violence. Critique, writes Raunig, must be seen as a search for alternative forms of living in resistance and opposition to dominant, oppressive orders, and as a battle over education, over language, over broader regimes of knowledge production – to speak with Foucault, as a battle over discourse. To this should be added alternative forms of living with animals – alternatives to the exploitative dominant order which the formal (and informal) education system sustains15 to the extent that the education system’s relation with other species has been conceptualized as a war.16 But critique – again to speak with Foucault – must also continuously transgress the limits of knowledge, limits set by our education. Again: like Emma and Adrian, we need to put both our textual and social machines to work.
Where does this leave us, in terms of revolutionary possibilities for animal liberation? As already noted, most of us can’t opt for Adrian’s educational undercover ”career.” Nor can everyone set about to rescue hens, as Emma did, as part of a university thesis project. But most of us spend many years in educational institutions, and some of what is going on there opens more space for counter-hegemonic resistance and action than others. Education has two inherent dimensions that facilitate this kind of resistance, and that we can take advantage of: First; education (in its conventional form) typically privileges textual machines. In fact, textual machines are deeply entrenched in the very nature and arrangement of education. Whenever we are expected to produce some kind of text for the purpose of gaining educational credentials, we may consider to write from an animal liberation standpoint, or create texts that can be of use for this work (like Emma above, who transformed her BSc thesis into an animal liberation project). Or, we can simply take the opportunity to enhance our general analytic and critical skills that will also strengthen our position to work for social transformation. Second; as Adrian’s and Emma’s examples clearly show, educational processes can’t be controlled (although many educators and policymakers seem to believe they can, and design teaching approaches, testing regimes, and even entire education systems on this premise).17 Thus, a lecture may be prepared, a seminar organized and a student project supervised, but what someone actually learns, and how this knowledge is put to use and for what ends, is beyond the educator’s control.
It is in the spaces where these two dimensions – the privileged position of textual machines, and the inherent unpredictability of education – come together, that teaching and learning may be reoriented and education as such can be transformed into a tool of resistance: We can co-opt these spaces. Let’s put to creative and forceful work our own textual and social machines in these spaces of educational uncontrollability, and find out what they can produce.
Banner and artwork by Caitlin Black
Photos: Hens from Emma’s PhD thesis in their new home (annon).
- Linné, T. & Pedersen, H. With Care for Cows and a Love for Milk: Affect and performance in dairy industry communication strategies. In A. Potts (Ed.), Meat Culture (pp. 109-128). Leiden and Boston: Brill 2016; Noske, B. Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals. Montréal: Black Rose Books 1997; Rowe, B. D. It IS about Chicken: Chick-fil-A, Posthumanist Intersectionality, and Gastro-Aesthetic Pedagogy. Journal of Thought, 48(2), p 89-111, 2013; Twine, R. Animals as Biotechnology: Ethics, sustainability, and critical animal studies. London and Washington, DC: Earthscan, 2010
- see Donaldson, Sue. “Queen’s Animal Defence: A Profile in Advocacy”, Animal Liberation Currents, November 17, 2016
- Gunnarsson Dinker, K. & Pedersen, H. Critical Animal Pedagogies: Re-learning our Relations with Animal Others. In H. Lees & N. Noddings (Eds.), Palgrave International Handbook of Alternative Education (pp. 415-430). London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016; Pedersen, H. Animals in schools: Processes and strategies in human-animal education. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2010
- See, for instance Andrzejewski, J. Teaching Animal Rights at the University: Philosophy and Practice. Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 1(1), 16-34, 2003; Corman, L., & Vandrovcová, T. Radical humility: Toward a more holistic critical animal studies pedagogy. In A.J. Nocella II, J. Sorenson, K. Socha, & A. Matsuoka (Eds.), Defining critical animal studies: An intersectional social justice approach for liberation (pp. 135-157). New York: Peter Lang, 2014; Linné, T. & Pedersen, H. “’Expanding My Universe’: Critical Animal Studies Education as Theory, Politics, and Practice.” In J. Sorenson (Ed.), Critical Animal Studies: Thinking the Unthinkable (pp. 268-283). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press 2014
- Raunig, G. What is Critique? Suspension and Recomposition in Textual and Social Machines. <http://eipcp.net/transversal/0808/raunig/en/base_edit> 2008
- Foucault, M. (2009). Preface. In Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (pp. xi-xiv). London: Penguin Books. 2009
- Raunig, G. (2008) Op Cit
- rescuing animals from labs in a range of creative manners; see Pedersen, H. Undercover Education: Mice, Mimesis, and Parasites in the Teaching Machine. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 31(4), 365-386, 2012
- Raunig, G. 2008, Op Cit
- Pedersen, H. Unstable Mixtures: Zooethnographic Educational Relations as Difference, Contagion, Critique, and Potential. Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 1(1), 152-165, 2012
- Pedersen, H. Counting Affects: Mo(ve)ments of Intensity in Critical Avian Education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 16, 38-53, 2011
- Raunig, G. (2008) Op Cit
- e.g., Cole, M. & Stewart, K. Our children and other animals: The cultural construction of human-animal relations in childhood. Farnham: Ashgate. 2014; Kahn, R. & Humes, B. Marching out from Ultima Thule: Critical counterstories of emancipatory educators working at the intersection of human rights, animal rights, and planetary sustainability. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, p 179-195, 2009; Pedersen, H. Animals in schools: Processes and strategies in human-animal education. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2010; Pedersen, H. Education, Animals, and the Commodity Form. Culture and Organization, 18 (5), p 415-432, 2012; Rowe, B.D. Understanding animals-becoming-meat: Embracing a disturbing education. Critical Education, 2 (7). <http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/criticaled/article/view/182311>, 2011; Wallin, J. Dark pedagogy. In P. MacCormack (Ed.), The animal catalyst: Towards ahuman theory (p. 145-162). London: Bloomsbury 2014.
- MacCormack, P. Gracious Pedagogy. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 10(1), p 13-17, 2013
- Biesta, G.J.J. Say you want a revolution… Suggestions for the impossible future of critical pedagogy. Educational Theory, 48(4), p 499-510, 1998