Animals as Labourers? Marx, Work and Non Humans

Stream: Panel 3 - Environmental Politics: The Political Turn in Animal Ethics
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


The recent ‘political turn’ in animal rights theory has also opened up possibilities for conceptualising animals as a social justice issue within the context of social and political institutions. This paper explores the potential of using theory from Karl Marx to think about animal labour under capitalism. In Capital Marx draws a fundamental distinction between constant capital and variable capital (comprising the so called “organic composition of capital”). In this account, it is the latter category of capital that is reflective of human labour, and only variable capital is capable of producing surplus. Against this view a range of scholars – such as Ted Benton, Jason Hribal, Kendra Coulter, Alasdair Cochrane, and Barbara Noske – have proposed animals as labouring subjects. This paper seeks to extend on this work. Drawing on Marx, I will argue in a technical sense that animals labour as variable capital to both produce surplus and simultaneously to reproduce themselves as constant capital to be exchanged at the next phase of a value chain. I will examine live animal transport as a way to demonstrate this dynamic. I will further argue that this perspective offers some novel ways to consider the exploitation of animals, and offers animal advocates some different ways to argue for change.


Dinesh Wadiwel (Presenter), The University of Sydney
Dinesh Wadiwel is a Lecturer and Director of the Master of Human Rights at the University of Sydney. His research interests include sovereignty and the nature of rights, violence, race and critical animal studies. He is author of the monograph The War against Animals (Brill, 2015).