Abstract

Working out the concept of rights is a complicated business, which at least keeps philosophers occupied. Not so long ago, one of us would have been denied the right to vote, on the grounds of her gender. Yet now, at the turn of the millennium, she is far from sure that we have come very far on the question of women's rights. And if women, or minorities, or anyone else who is human can sometimes be denied rights, then how much more likely that non-humans will be? Yet extending the concept of rights to non-human animals is increasingly being taken seriously. It is debated in academic journals, and forms the basis for a growing activism. The publication of books arguing in favour of extending rights to at least some animals has proliferated.1 But the idea also has its critics. Some criticisms come from those who simply wish to keep nonhuman animals out of any moral or political agenda.2 The starting point of this article is the critique of the idea of rights, from the perspective of those who are animal advocates3; in particular, we start from the premise that the concept of 'rights' is too rooted in idealisation of the individual and autonomy. Such idealisation can be found in claims about nonhuman animals. But, we would argue, this marginalises any concept of relationality. In discussing relationality, we aim to address the ways in which relations between human and nonhuman animals are embedded in broader networks of inter-relations (that range from the evolutionary to the local and cultural). Those relations are also a product of the heterogeneous forms of communication between individual human and animal, especially in the case of companion animals.

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