The Elephant (Pig, Cow, Chicken, Sheep,…) in the Room. Mass Violence Against Animals As a Non-Topic in the Sociology of Violence

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Frithjof NUNGESSER, University of Graz, Austria
Despite its upsurge in the last decades, the sociology of violence has almost completely ignored one of the largest, most systematic and most long-lasting phenomena of mass violence. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2012 around 67 billion land animals were slaughtered worldwide (in Austria 83 million; in Germany 765 million). Hence, every year almost 10 terrestrial animals are killed per head. These numbers only became possible through the modernization of the economic, political, judicial, technical, and medical conditions of animal production – especially since the 1950s and 60s. Therefore, mass violence against animals can be regarded as an essentially modern and rationalized form of violence. This very fact, however, also poses a problem for the self-understanding of modern societies which see themselves as basically peaceful and non-violent. For this reason, violence usually is explained (away) by referring to “pathological” developments within individuals or societies, a “relapse” into premodern times et cetera. Yet, for obvious reasons, these narratives do not really work for violence against non-human animals. As a consequence, the question arises, how we cope with the uneasiness many of us feel with regard to the treatment of our non-human relatives. In this talk, I will analyze some of the narratives and methods through which emotional and cognitive disengagement from mass violence against animals is produced. These help to explain why violence against animals is, in most cases, not conceptualized as violence at all. This also helps explain why it has not been much of a problem for sociology – just as for society at large.