Reece’s Pieces: The Limits of Law and the Life Sentences of Lucy the Elephant

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Totten, Tyler Victor




In this dissertation, I examine the public debate over the welfare of Lucy, the zoo elephant at the heart of the 2011 Alberta Court of Appeal case of Reece v Edmonton (City). Attending to three sites of study ("species," "location," and "law"), I engage in a critical discourse analysis to uncover the conceptual limits within which this debate occurred with respect to animals and the law. Being socio-legal in nature, this is a case study not of Reece, but of "Reece's pieces" insofar as this project analyzes the discourse spread across print news media, websites, blogs, online videos, and social media feeds spanning from 2005 to 2018. Moving beyond the familiar legal animal studies binaries of welfarism versus abolitionism, property versus personhood, and so on, I use ecofeminist and posthumanist perspectives to uncover conceptual pressure points. For instance, while Lucy's trunk is alien in relation to human features, yet apparently capable of "human" capacities like art-making, go-to concepts of "the animal" and "the human" are found to be fundamentally unstable throughout this discourse. Similarly, insofar as the feel-good concept of "home" is deployed with respect to past, present, and would-be locations for Lucy, the discourse actively attempts to resist engaging with the conditions of a zoo elephant in North America -- ones that may actually imply that "home" is a fundamental impossibility for such a being. Relatedly, rather than the repeated deployment of criminal-law terms being a layperson's mistake when speaking of the civil lawsuit of Reece, this go-to legal language instead points to what is spoken around by all sides in the debate: the underlying power structures that accompany the figure of the captive elephant, with pastoral logics of care and carceral logics of punishment competing and combining in ways formal law cannot sufficiently articulate. Ultimately, in locating these limits, I spotlight what traditional ways of thinking one may need to move beyond if justice to animals is ever to be done, also identifying how and where the "life sentences" of the elephant at the heart of this debate may someday end.






Carleton University

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Legal Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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