Theories of dehumanization generally assume a single clear-cut, value-free and non-dilemmatic boundary between the categories 'human' and 'animal'. The present study highlights the relevance of dilemmas involved in drawing that boundary. In six focus groups carried out in Romania and Britain, 42 participants were challenged to think about dilemmas pertaining to animal and human life. Four themes were identified: rational autonomy, sentience, speciesism and maintaining materialist and post-materialist values. Sentience made animals resemble humans, while humans' rational autonomy made them distinctive. Speciesism underlay the human participants' prioritization of their own interests over those of animals, and a conservative consensus that the existing social system could not change supported this speciesism when it was challenged. Romanian participants appealed to Romania's lack of modernity and British participants to Britain's modernity to justify such conservatism. The findings suggest that the human-animal boundary is not essentialized; rather it seems that such boundary is constructed in a dilemmatic and post hoc way. Implications for theories of dehumanization are discussed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology