Macquarie University
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Animal labour and alienation under capitalism

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posted on 2024-04-08, 02:43 authored by John Ian Goris

In this thesis, I develop a novel account of alienation that applies to animals. I argue that there are goods of work for animals, but when alienated, they are prevented from accessing these goods. While some have argued that Marx’s opposition between humanity and animality is fatal to any attempt to apply the concept of alienation to animals, I argue that Marx’s core insight, that workers become poorer the more wealth they produce, is widely applicable to animals in industrial agriculture. The young Marx understood alienation to have a foundational, systematic relation to capitalism. I argue that Marx’s account was incorrect, but a systematic relation can be described using the methodology of historical materialism and the economic laws developed in Capital Vol I and II, specifically the General Law of capitalist accumulation and the tendency for turnover time to reduce. Some have argued that Marx should have recognised that animals produce value. If they are correct, then the abovementioned laws need radical modification. I present an analysis of the Philippine economy’s input-output tables to test this claim and conclude that Marx does not need this revision. Many philosophers in animal studies have rejected or undervalued the historical materialist approach. Instead, I argue that it offers a cogent explanation of our differential treatment of animals. I contend that materialist explanations can explain our differential treatment of animals, whereas accounts that appeal solely to culture, ideology or speciesism cannot. I then supplement my materialist analysis with Lukács’ concept of reification, arguing that our reified relation to animals is a pathology of reason particular to capitalism. I conclude the thesis by assessing the potential for working-class agitation, capitalist economies, and socialist economies to overcome the alienation of animals. 


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter I: Animal Work -- Chapter II: The Goods of Animal Work -- Chapter III: Alienated animals -- Chapter IV: The Animal Labour Theory of Value -- Chapter V: The Systematic Link Between Alienation and Capitalism -- Chapter VI: Materialist Explanations of Animal Work in Non-Capitalist Settings -- Chapter VII: The Reification of Animals -- Chapter VIII: Overcoming the Alienation of Animals -- Conclusion -- Bibliography -- Appendix

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jean-Philippe Deranty

Additional Supervisor 1

Amanda Johnson


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245 pages

Former Identifiers

AMIS ID: 325215

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