The Social Construction of Domestication

Most pets are classified as so-called "domesticated animals." The root term "domestic" comes from the Latin word for house. As such, it's no wonder that the "domestication" of other animals relates to the social construction of our inability to understand these other animals as capable of living independently of a human household.

Along these lines, one self-identified animal rights nonprofit is claiming that "domesticated" nonhuman animals are incapable of living independent lives and, according to this rights organization, are therefore also incapable of having "rights." This organization appropriates the terms "vegan" and "veganism" in claiming that "veganism and animal rights are not separate movements," and goes on to claim:

Vegans advance "animal welfare" in the truest sense of the term. We promote the survival and freedom of free-living animals both by reducing our impact on their habitat, and by not consuming them.

At the same time, domesticated animals require us to look after their welfare; this is a matter of morality and common sense. Here again, we promote their well-being in the truest sense of the term. We look after them when they are here, but we do not breed them or use them. And we don't consume them.

We shouldn't confuse looking after dependent animals' true welfare (a good idea) with what rights proponents sometimes call "welfarism" (a negative idea meaning advocacy focused on adjusting methods of handling animals within exploitive systems).

This organization assume that domestication — that is, an existence limited to dominance under a human household — is somehow an essential characteristic to certain nonhuman animals. This essentialization assumes that dependence is inherent to these other animals, as opposed to a state of their oppression under human supremacy. As such, this organization does not seriously question the consumption/abduction of other animals.

Stated differently, the nonprofit presents domestication as an essential dependence rooted in individual nonhuman animals and attributable to their inherent biology. The subtext is to blame other animals for their dependence on humans without questioning the social structure of that dependence. Domestication is the cause of their dependence, not the result of an essential dependence on the part of other animals. That is, it is not the biology of other animals that leads to this dependence on humans, but the structure of a society and social organizations based on human supremacy that makes other animals dependent on us.

The subtext of the organization's claim that "domesticated animals require us to look after their welfare" is to presume a structure of human supremacy. Thus, this organization perpetuates the logic of consumption/abduction that structures the oppression of certain groups of nonhuman animals, specifically those we keep as pets.