Innovative and provocative study of animals in human services

Susanna Hedenborg
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University

Kendra Coulter Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity 201 pages, hardcover. Basingstoke, Hamps.: Palgrave Macmillan 2015 ISBN 978-1-137-55879-4
Kendra Coulter
Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity
201 pages, hardcover.
Basingstoke, Hamps.: Palgrave Macmillan 2015
ISBN 978-1-137-55879-4

Let me start by saying that Animals, work and the promise of interspecies solidarity is an interesting and challenging book and a book of great importance for anybody wanting to deepen their understanding of work and labour processes as well as the role animals play in our societies. The author, Kendra Coulter is associate professor at the Center for Labour Studies, Brock University, Canada and in this book she develops a framework that helps us to reach a more profound understanding of interspecies work and labour processes. The concept “animal work” is problematized and serves as an umbrella term as well as a springboard for examining labour involving animals. Coulter uses a tool kit that draws from feminist political economy and theories of a gendered labour process and demonstrates that we need to move beyond existing theoretical frameworks to develop our understanding of work. She uncovers and problematizes relationships between people and animals thereby explaining important economic structures of the society.

Far ages, animals and people have lived side by side, working together. Yet, many of these jobs are made invisible, as many of us don’t acknowledge work done by animals as work. Our theories of labour and of the organization of our society are anthropocentric. Coulter is not the first to point this out, and to draw conclusions on the basis of it. Philosophers as well as animal rights activists have said it before. Pointing to the importance of understanding these jobs from a labour process perspective is, however, interesting as Coulter underlines the similarities between jobs performed by animals and women. Throughout history this work has been downplayed and not recognized as work. Therefore, we need the insights and new tools presented in this book to understand the labour market in a more holistic way.

This is not a book of animal rights – even though it is clear that we need to recognize animals’ rights in order to change labour processes for both animals and people. Instead complex relationships are discussed and problematized. In three different chapters Coulter discusses work done with and for animals in daily work and labour processes; work done by animals – identifying and understanding animals’ work; and work done with and for animals in relation to political labour and the work of advocacy. She also discusses who is doing what kind of jobs with and for animals and how different kind of jobs are organized and valued. It is clear that looking at the performed chores is not enough to understand working conditions. Just to give a quick example – mucking out dung from horses at the racetrack is a completely different kind of job than doing the same chore in a slaughterhouse. The racetrack is inhabited by expensive horses, poorly paid grooms, rich owners, small riders and big audiences. Racehorses are supposed to perform and to make money for their owners as well as for people betting on them. A day at work in a slaughterhouse is different. Even though horses can and will die in both contexts, killing is routinized in slaughterhouse. They are often placed on the outskirts of a city and there are no audiences witnessing the death of animals, etcetera. Kendra demonstrates the importance of understanding the variety of contexts and of having elaborate tools to comprehend animals’ and people’s daily work in all its complextities.

There are several thought-provoking examples in the book, such as the use of animals as social workers or animals in war situations. That dogs, as well as people, can suffer from post-traumatic stress syndromes and that animals as well as people need to rest and recover from stressful situations becomes obvious from the examples. The reading of these examples begs the question whether we create working conditions that allow rest for both animals and people. The close economical and emotional interconnection between people and animals is revealed in another example, in which Coulter presents Kenyan women working together with donkeys. These women talk about how their work with donkeys frames their lives. It pays for their maternity fees as well as health insurance, their children’s food and clothes. With these examples Coulter demonstrates that the interdependence between animals and people sometimes leads to interspecies solidarity, but that this is not given – it has to be achieved. There are also plenty of examples when inhumane and destructive things are done to animals (and people) particularly in industrialized, for profit, use of animals. What happens to our experience of equestrian sports, circus animals or elephants carrying tourists, if we acknowledge animals’ work?

In her concluding chapter,“Anifesto: The Promise of Interspecies Solidarity”, Coulter makes clear that people can make ethical decisions (unlike animals) and that it is our obligation to make those decisions in such a way as to develop humane jobs for people and animals; for a better future for all. This book is unique, interesting, and important. Laudably, Kendra Coulter helps us think more deeply and broadly about definitions of work and about the past, present, and future of all our working relationships.

Copyright© Susanna Hedenborg 2016

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