Casting Justice Before Swine: The Prosecution of Pigs in Late Medieval France

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    In recent years, animals have become increasingly involved in human legal proceedings. Legal scholars have embraced the animal turn, blurring the once sovereign boundaries between persons and objects, and recognising animals, perhaps even Nature herself, as legal subjects. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic stresses the urgency of establishing ‘global animal law’ and deconstructing anthropocentrism yet again, by highlighting the appalling daily living conditions that many animals must endure in places such as animal markets. To this end, it is vital to also consider the extensive premodern legal history that humans share with animals. Over 200 so-called animal trials have been recorded in Europe between the Late Middle Ages and the twentieth century. In these proceedings, animals who had allegedly violated Christianity’s natural hierarchy were vigorously prosecuted, at times resulting in capital punishment or even anathema. I problematise the notion that these trials constitute wholesome legal precedents of the kind of legal personhood presently debated in jurisprudence, evidenced in my counter-hegemonic analysis of the legal prosecution and execution of several pigs in fifteenth-century France. Rather, late mediaeval notions of criminality transcended the human-nonhuman binary whilst perpetuating and reifying the alleged human-nonhuman divide. I propose that animal trials were local laboratories where human communities reflected upon the natural order of God’s creation. Ensuing the apparent breach of the prescribed boundaries of nature, these communities renegotiated and re-naturalised everyday interspecies sociability. In so doing, societies utilised the offending animals to exemplify particular ideas about what it means to be human, generally to the animals’ detriment. Mediaeval studies, I maintain, have an ethical duty to address these and other forms of animal suffering in human history to expose and destabilise the longue durée of human exceptionalism and its devastating socio-ecological consequences.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 7-Apr-2021
    EventAnimals and Religion: Annual Meeting of The Finnish Society for Human-Animal Studies and The Finnish Society for the Study of Religion - Online, Helsinki, Finland
    Duration: 7-Apr-20218-Apr-2021


    ConferenceAnimals and Religion
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