Unleashing Rights is a study of the animal rights movement’s efforts to advance social reform through the deployment of legal language and practices. The study looks at how prevailing understandings of rights language have shaped the attempt to put forth the idea that animals have rights, and how this attempt, in turn, offers the opportunity to reconstruct the meaning of rights. The book also examines the way litigation has influenced the movement’s activities and opportunities for success.
Presented here is an investigation of the legal system through a decentered, cultural approach. Legal languages and practices are viewed as a part of everyday life--constructed, used, and interpreted not only by those who run official legal institutions but also by everyday people with a legal consciousness. Using this approach, the book questions whether the deployment of rights and litigation by animal rights advocates has challenged prevailing legal meaning.
Looking to both the constitutive and instrumental aspects of law, and to how each informs the other, Unleashing Rights finds that the resort to rights and litigation has advanced movement goals and contributed to alternative constructions of legal meaning. The study concludes that despite their many constraints, both rights talk and litigation are powerful resources for those who seek change, especially when used by strategically minded activists.
Unleashing Rights is a book that illustrates the relationship between law, social movement activism, and social change. The book joins the ongoing debate within public law scholarship that is concerned with the effectiveness of legal strategies and languages. The book also speaks to those interested in the general study of social movements and in the particular study of the animal rights movement. With its cultural approach focused on rights language and the construction of meaning, the work will be of interest to the disciplines of law and political science, as well as those who study sociology, anthropology, and philosophy.
Helena Silverstein is F. M. Kirby Assistant Professor of Government and Law, Lafayette College.