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Witness: Humans, Animals, and the Politics of Becoming

By Naisargi N. Dave

Cite As:
Dave, Naisargi N. 2014. “Witness: Humans, Animals, and the Politics of Becoming.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 3: 433–456.


A prominent animal rights activist in New Delhi, explaining her relentlessness on behalf of animals, said to me the following: “I only wish there were a slaughterhouse next door. To witness that violence, to hear those screams . . . I would never be able to rest.” She was not alone among animal welfare activists in India in linking the witnessing of violence against an animal to the creation of a profound bond that demanded from her a life of responsibility. I argue in this article that this moment of witnessing constitutes an intimate event in tethering human to nonhuman, expanding ordinary understandings of the self and its possible social relations, potentially blowing the conceit of humanity apart. But I also consider another reading, which is how this act of intimacy exacerbates the species divide as the witness hyper-embodies herself as human, “giving voice” for the animal other which cannot speak. Throughout the article, I consider how posthumanist perspectives might trouble both these interpretations and ask what it would it mean to take seriously the animal activist’s “becoming animal.”


animals; activism; posthumanism; India