Sharing Suffering

Matt Whalen, Fall 2021           

In Chapter 3 of Donna Haraway’s (2008) manuscript, the ethical concept of “sharing suffering” with nonhuman life is posited as a counter argument to the common perception of instrumental-use relationships between human and nonhuman beings as inherently objectifying and unethical. Haraway openly recognizes the necessity of the instrumental use of nonhuman beings in contributing to advancements in human and nonhuman societies. Haraway expands on this dilemma, stating that all animals have a capacity to respond, which is not unique to humans, however humans have the unique responsibility to be fully conscious and accountable for respecting nonhuman agency by curtailing our instrumental engagement with nonhuman beings in ways that do not restrict their agency or capacity to respond (pg 71). Haraway contextualizes examples where sharing the pain experienced by animals in settings of scientific laboratory instrumental use is absent, describing that scientific instrumental relations are often constructed in ways that serve to disconnect the sentient interactions between the human and nonhuman of interest, which I initially struggled to comprehend how this concept could be applied within the field of conservation.

Upon deeper introspection, I now have a clearer comprehension of the link between the idea of  “sharing the suffering” with animals in a multispecies framework outside of a physically confined scientific laboratory research setting, rather narrowly put forward by Haraway. The channels of thought that ultimately helped me apply this concept to the field of conservation was contemplation of the various forms of conservational methods that encourage the killing of a given species in order to accomplish a desired outcome, often justified by supporting the integrity of the ecosystem as a whole. For example, conservation methods in the state of Texas encourage the wide-scale killing of invasive feral pigs that are prolific on the landscape and responsible for damaging farmers’ crops. The state of Texas goes as far as making it legal for individuals to ‘hunt’ (kill) these sentient beings with semi-automatic rifles out of flying helicopters. After watching videos and interviews of ‘helicopter hunters’ on the internet gunning down pig after pig, it is blatantly apparent that many of the individual helicopter pig hunters do not engage in sharing the suffering of the animals they are killing; Rather, they appear to find value in the act of killing the pigs as a result of their label as ‘invasive’, describing their actions of killing as being “constructive to wildlife management”. However, increasing emphasis on limiting the cruelty towards invasive species might also be improved by encouraging invasive species management practices that place greater emphasis on ethical stewardship that respects the land (Land) as a sentient being, also worthy of similar treatment and respect (Kanngieser and Todd, 2020). Instead of encouraging individuals to murder nonhuman beings using high powered weapons meant for war from an aerial vehicle, the ethical concept of “sharing suffering” with the nonnative pigs might warrant the state of Texas Wildlife Management Division to allocate financial resources towards developing and distributing trapping technologies that reduce the deliberate cruelty and pain experienced by the pigs; Also out of respect for their inherent place as active members of society due to their existence on the Land, which cannot be said of the conventional feral pig conservation management strategies currently employed on private lands in Texas.


  1. Haraway, D. (2008). Sharing suffering, instrumental relations between laboratory animals and their people. Chapter 3.
  1. Kanngieser, A. and Todd, Z. (2020). From environmental case study to environmental kin study. History and Theory, 59(3): 385-393 DOI: 10.1111/hith.12166
  1. Link to graphic video describing feral hog conservation methods in the state of Texas.

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