Dynamic non-human animals in theories of practice: views from the subaltern


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When nonhuman animals are used/killed for entertainment, fashion, sport, research, and food, their roles in associated practices are largely constituted by humans. How, then, might these animals be located within practices? In what ways, if any, can they be regarded as dynamic? Watson (2016: 4) argues “practice theory should be able to account for means of executing power which involve shaping or directing the action of ‘others’”. However, animal ‘others’ cannot be said to be practitioners, performers, participants or actants in these practices. For one, this elides their inherent inequality. It is also misleading to view them as materials. As well as negating their autonomous being-ness, this accepts their respective roles uncritically—as already ‘done’, as Martin conceives gender is done (2003). I argue, therefore, that social practice theories have not yet made room for animal ‘others’ in the way Watson recommends. This is more an outcome of the way practice elements have been conceptualised than a deliberate omission. I demonstrate that attention to the ‘subaltern’—a social group “always subject to the activities of the ruling groups” (Jazeel 2014) might provide a way to locate nonhuman (and human) ‘others’ within practices. Comprising an additional element, the ‘subaltern’ would render visible those experiencing both limited/forced access to practices as a result of unequal power, and limited power within practices. I delineate the distinctive properties of this element using the example of animals used/killed for food. Drawing on theorisations of the ‘other’, I show how practices of use are underpinned by persistent dualisms not yet ready to be “jettisoned” (Whatmore 2002: 159). This reconceptualisation could yield more nuanced interpretations of relations within and across practices. It may also introduce a novel way of thinking about practices with no obvious ‘other’, but where some degree of unequal relations can be construed as a kind of use not accounted for in current approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Practices and Dynamic Non-Humans
Subtitle of host publicationNature, Materials and Technologies
EditorsCecily Maller, Yolande Strengers
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783319921891
ISBN (Print)9783319921884
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Critical Animal Studies
  • Practice theories
  • Social practices
  • Nonhumans
  • Power


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