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Law and the Question of the (Nonhuman) Animal

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The turn of the millennium has witnessed an extraordinary paradox—one identified by Jacques Derrida as a simultaneous increase in violence against nonhuman animals and compassion toward them. This article turns to critical legal theory as well as to recent work by continental philosophers on the human/animal distinction in order to make sense of the ways the paradox manifests in law, arguing that so-called animal welfare laws that appear to be politically progressive are, in fact, iterations of the very violence they purport to redress. What legislation designates as “animal” has neither language nor a recognized image, which not only renders this singular object of law voiceless but also denies that object access to any experience of death, and thus, to life. Through a deconstruction of recently enacted Japanese “animal welfare” legislation, this article proposes that the inability of the legislator to think the animal as having a relation to death belies a deeper struggle at the heart of law itself, to constitute its subjects through language.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for International Law and the Humanities; the University of Melbourne, Email:


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