Slow violence against animals: Unseen spectacles in racing and at zoos

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Paula Arcari

There is little consensus on what constitutes violence towards nonhuman animals and a perceptual lacuna between understandings of violence and violent effects. This paper aims to address both issues, first by using Nixon’s concept of slow violence to extend conceptions of violence towards nonhumans beyond a focus on physical violence, and second, by foregrounding the subjectivities affected by violence. Focusing on zoos and racing events (horses and greyhounds) – spaces where violence towards animals is largely silent or ‘smoothed’ – practices that support and shape the visual consumption of spectacularised animals are examined through interviews with 59 visitors to these sites. Analysis reveals how the subjectivities of the animals in question are respectively aggregated and negated, instrumentalised, anthropocentrically narrated, and re-captured at potential points of escape from these ‘hypertopic’ regimes. As a discursive corrective to this desubjectification, and offering a means of imaginative resistance, the final part of the paper offers three ficto-critical biographical constructions of the lives of a greyhound, a thoroughbred horse used in racing, and a mandrill. These constructions centre the subjective, lifetime experience of these animals, encompassing not only moments of human interaction but also their effects. In conclusion, the paper argues that unsettling speciesism and anthropocentrism requires more than critiques of fast violence. Expanding and clarifying understandings of violence against other animals is proposed as one means of launching a more serious challenge to the oppression of all animals, including those used in ways conceived as largely benign or even benevolent.


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