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  • Writer's pictureThe Animal Turn

S3E2 - Pervasive Captivity with Nicolas Delon (Show Notes)

Updated: May 8, 2022

It might be that initially it was a good bargain for them, that they were attracted to the urban environment because it was safer, warmer, offered free sources of food …but at a point when that is combined with habitat destruction and increased reliance on human provision then they become captive to the extent that their options are severely restricted” – Nicolas Delon

Published a year ago, Claudia talks to Nicholas Delon in this episode about ‘pervasive captivity’. Moving beyond a conception of captivity as only including those ‘behind bars’, they explore the many ways in which ‘the urban’ might operate to make animals captive by limiting their mobility and autonomy.

Nicolas Delon is Assistant Professor or philosophy and environmental studies at New College of Florida. He specializes in animal ethics, with particular interests in moral status and animal agency. He has published on these topics as well as the ethics of killing animals, urban animals, wild animal suffering, and Nietzsche, among other things. He’s currently working on a book project about animals and the moral community of persons. Check out his website ( or connect with him on Twitter (@NicoDelon)

00:34 – Claudia gives an intro to the episode

  • Developments at The Animal Turn – check out the website. It includes links to resources that might be useful to you.

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  • “What does it mean to be a captive?” Nicolas has a much broader definition of the concept and its usefulness is clear in the episode.

4:20 – About Nicolas Delon

  • Teaches Philosophy in Florida and a philosopher by training

  • Animal Ethics is his area of specialization but started to engage in more inter-disciplinary work

  • Shifts and influences between academic and personal interests in animals

  • “This topic gets really personal, really quickly” – Nicolas

09:58 – Why should we be talking about urban animals?

  • Teaching at NYU and Lori Gruen had released a volume on the ethics of animal captivity – did a class on this for three years

  • Interested in the animals in the liminal spaces – those animals that are neither domesticated or wild

  • People consider the city as a place where animals are out of place or not welcome – “that struck me as false, that was not my experience” – Nicolas.

  • There is a lot of wildlife in cities like New York and noticed them more and more. Learned how to take care of pigeons. Looked at and cared for animals that are neglected in real life but also in literature about animals in the city.

  • Urban animals are significant because they are urban animals and they deserve to be considered

  • Colin Jerolmack – The Global Pigeon taught how to think about the boundaries between the social and the natural

  • These animals are not only neglected but also interesting to think about in terms of how different categories are created

17:50 – What is this concept captivity? What does it mean to be captive

  • Basically it is a “deprivations of freedoms” – restricts ability to do something but we need to understand how this takes place

  • Following Lori Gruen you could see a captive and a captor. Involves confinement and control and also leads to dependence. These tend to be mutually reinforcing.

  • “By making them dependent and/or vulnerable, we also, to a degree make them confined to certain places where they can survive” – Nicolas.

  • If you look at these three (confinement, control, and dependency) you start to realise that there are more cases of urban captivity than we would necessarily think.

  • An objection – or intersecting interjection – would be if children could be thought of as captives

22:09 – To what extent are any of us really free to do what we want?

  • “There are all sorts of institutions that restrict our freedoms?” – but if we think everyone is captive then it doesn’t do any work. So we need to think about if the captivity is abnormal and restricts options

  • Street dog versus a dog in a home – different options that are available to these different groups.

  • “How do you navigate that tension of animals being essentialized to natural, biological things versus being dynamic beings that react to their environments?” – Claudia

  • Wary of introducing too much essence in how we conceive of species-specific ideas. Working with a thin idea of natural. A baseline before a significant change.

  • Skills of flexibility might be developed differently in urban environments – there are different problems to respond to in rural versus urban areas. Take for examples racoons.

30:00 – Dogs in cities and their captivity

  • Street dogs and companion dogs might both be captive but captive in different ways

  • See Alexandra Horowitz – constituted captivity

  • “What kind of scales of captivity are we talking about?” – Claudia

  • Dogs and their choices in cities, who cares for dogs

36:00 – Speaking about captivity in different ways

  • “The idea of pervasive captivity is meant to capture the fact that there are many more captives than what we think intuitively” – Nicolas

  • “If you think of the urban environment as creating a lot of spatial constraints on the movements of many urban populations but also enforcing many forms of control…and you add to that the fact that the city is such a natural environment for many of them, these animals become dependent – Nicolas

  • Nobody in particular intended to create the conditions for captivity

  • Animals are reliant on the urban space, relying on another space is not an option

  • Two aspects are mutually reinforcing – their habitats are in cities and habitats outside of cities are increasingly under threat.

  • Doesn’t mean all animals in the urban environment are captive – there could be many that flourish

41:00 – An example: Birds in cities

  • Bird feeders and salmonella, also birds starving in cities

  • To feed or not to feed? Should we feed wildlife?

  • Clare Palmer and Mallard Ducks – who become increasingly reliant

  • Be mindful of consequences of making animals dependent, increased vulnerability and responsibility

  • Jerolmack talks about pigeons and the feeding of pigeons becoming institutionalized and then banned - How Pigeons became rats

  • The speed with which we change our mind and politics – impacts ethics and animals’ experience of the city.

  • Captivity is a relational concept

  • Lori Gruen on entangled empathy – those relationships already exist. “Question is not whether or not we should have those relationships but where we do have them, how do we improve them?” Nicolas

  • Children as captives means you recognise that you have increased responsibilities.

  • Using the relationality of captivity to centre this idea of pervasive captivity

  • The idea of a spectrum – not as totalizing as saying “you are a pest”

  • A wide range of cases and degrees of captivity that will intercut with other spectra

  • Captivity doesn’t necessarily mean negative

49:00 – Quote from Jerolmack – The Global Pigeon

  • How pigeons are considered out of place

  • Food, waste, and living – the discomfort pigeons can create

  • Animals might eat things we find unpleasant.

  • Disavowed poo and sex

  • How are humans captive to their own social ideas?

  • Waste as a provision

  • Image of a dumpster with a bald eagle

  • “They are so close that we don’t actually notice them” – Nicolas

  • “They are as admirable as any of the charismatic species” – Nicolas

  • “As soon as they become problems they become visible – which is kind of sad” – Claudia

56:44 – What are you working on now?

1:00:11 – The Animal Highlight – Pigeons

  • Pigeons are very cool

  • See and hear in amazing ways!


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