Entanglements of Oppression
by David Nibert

Sociologist primarily search out and study broad social patterns. One of the most important and pervasive patterns is the devaluation of certain groups in society. Many sociologists question why some among us, such as women, humans of color, children, humans with disabilities, humans who are older or poor, and those with different sexual orientations, seem particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse and are disproportionately afflicted with adversity and privation. Sociologists have come to believe that racism, sexism, classism, and the like have historical structural causes that are rooted largely in unjust social arrangements – arrangements that significantly shape human consciousness and that are reflected in individual behaviors…

Social scientists and liberation activists alike promote the idea that the oppression of various groups is deeply grounded in the institutional arrangements and belief systems of society…Margaret Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins are among a rapidly growing number of sociologists who maintain that categories such as race, class, and gender are “interlocking” and “interactive systems” that should be analyzed in the context of “social institutions and belief systems.” Changing these social arrangements is key in expanding justice and freedom for all. Social activist and writer Suzanne Pharr puts it this way:

“It is virtually impossible to view one oppression…in isolation because they are all connected…They are linked by a common origin – economic power and control – and by common methods of limiting, controlling and destroying lives. There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is terrible and destructive. To eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or else success will always be limited and incomplete.”

…Oppression of humans causes much of the mistreatment of other animals, and the awful treatment of other animals fuels human exploitation…[O]ne of the most important entanglements, and one of the most tragic, has been the practice of considering other animals as food for humans.  For instance, in chapter 2 we will see that the initial organized killing of other animals for food and the use of their body parts as resources contributed significantly to the devaluation of women. Correspondingly, the devaluation and oppression of women facilitated and compounded the oppression of other animals. Similar entanglements between devalued groups of humans and other animals are commonplace throughout history and in contemporary social arrangements.

The oppressive treatment of different devalued groups – including exploiting a being’s labor, raising others for food and resources, and physically displacing or exterminating other groups – is entwined not only materially but also with the systems of beliefs and values that guide human society. Oppression has to be rationalized and justified. It relies heavily on hierarchical views in which certain groups are believed to be undeserving of consideration and fair treatment, promoting a ranking based on purported virtue or worth.  The ideological entanglement of hierarchical views of both humans and other animals has been the topic of several scholarly works, particularly by ecofeminists

[T]hose involved in any one liberation movement should realize their entanglement with all other oppressed groups and their common purpose. ..Suzanne Pharr’s insight – “to eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or else success will always be limited and incomplete” - must be expanded to include the liberation of other animals. At the same time, advocates for other animals should expand their awareness of the relationship between oppressive treatment of other animals and human stratification and suffering. Such understanding and political solidarity are vital if real advances are to be achieved in the liberation and quality of life for countless humans and other animals. - From the book: Animal Rights/Human Rights by David Nibert

Artwork by Jo Tyler

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