Animals and the concept of dignity: Critical reflections on a circus performance

Ethics and the Environment 7 (2):104-126 (2002)
Abstract
: This essay concerns the dignity of nonhuman animals. It is composed of three sections. The first recounts my experience of a Moscow Circus performance and records some of my thoughts, feelings, and observations of this circus' famous bears. As is obvious from that account, the performance and presentation of the bears seemed to me to be undignified in a nontrivial, that is, morally objectionable sense of the word. The second section of the essay tries to specify that sense, to identify the wrong(s) with these sorts of undignified performances, by developing a moral sense of dignity that might extend, generally, to nonhuman animals. I believe that the setting of this performance and my own frame of mind—the fact that it took place in Moscow and in the midst of my exposure to sites and stories of communist oppression—helped me to see the oppression of human and nonhuman animals as linked and the performance as a performance of power relations. The third section of the essay explores these power relations from an ecofeminist perspective through the circus' depiction of the 'momma bear.'
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