Modern culture = animal welfare culture, says sociologist Giddens

Sociologist Anthony Giddens writes about the Catalan Parliament’s recent ban to outlaw bullfights and the British Government’s recent ban on hunting.

Whilst short-term political manoeuvring is part of any explanation of the timing of such bans, for sociologists there has been a discernible long-term modern trend or social process towards the appreciation and conservation of nature and increasing concern with the welfare of animals. Modern cultures are generally animal welfare cultures. From the sixteenth century onwards, but gathering pace during eighteenth-century industrialization and nineteenth-century urbanization, as more people became less directly involved in working with animals in agriculture, a more detached view of human–animal relations emerged that spread across social groups and classes. With the growth in power of the modern state and its monopolization of the means of violence also came a revulsion at the use of violence against both humans and animals so that previously enjoyable animal ‘sports’ came to be re-classified as just so many instances of intolerable cruelty. Gradually, animals became the subject of increasing moral concern and any social practices which harmed or injured them were called into question. Similarly, the mass slaughter of animals for food had to be hidden out of sight behind the scenes of everyday life. Adopting this long-term perspective helps us to better understand why we remain so much more disturbed by animal cruelty than people were in previous times. But whether that makes us ‘better people’ is an entirely different matter.