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The biopolitics of animal being and welfare: dog control and care in the UK and India

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Abstract

The UK is widely regarded as a nation committed to animal welfare. On the other hand, the precarious lives of India’s stray dogs have attracted a considerable amount of international animal activist attention, and raised questions about the nation’s indifference to these animals. Furthermore, animal welfare practice and policy in India are significantly shaped by British law and practice, which is often considered superior. While these contrasting reputations appear reasonable, a closer inquiry reveals complexities that belie an easy relegation to ‘cruel’ and ‘kind’. Bringing together Foucauldian scholarship on power with legal and more-than-human geographies, this paper examines state and civil society discourse relating to the companion species, ‘dog’, an animal that is protected as a pet if in human homes, and controlled as a pest if out of place. In particular, this inquiry examines the discursive formations of dog control law and welfare practice in the UK and India to interrogate conventional understandings of dog (well)being. This analysis is then used as a foundation to conceptually develop Foucauldian work on biopower for the study of more-than-human relationships. The paper also draws out, from the above examination, insights connected to the political question of how humans might share physical and ethical space with animals, even those that do not enjoy the status of ‘protected’ or useful species.

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