"Bringing individual animals into the frame " - Author & Ethnographer Kathryn Gillespie - Sentientism Episode 110

Find Kathryn’s Sentientist Conversation with me here on the Sentientism YouTube and on the Sentientism podcast.

Kathryn Gillespie PhD  ( is a writer, multispecies ethnographer, & feminist geographer. She is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Kentucky in the Department of Geography & the Applied Environmental & Sustainability Studies Program. Her research & teaching interests focus on: ethnography & qualitative methods; feminist & multi-species theory & methods; food & agriculture; political economy; critical animal studies; human-environment relations. She is the author of The Cow with Ear Tag #1389. She has also published in numerous scholarly journals & has co-edited three books: Vulnerable Witness: The Politics of Grief in the Field; Critical Animal Geographies: Politics, Intersections and Hierarchies in a Multispecies World; and Economies of Death: Economic Logics of Killable Life & Grievable Death. Kathryn has volunteered with Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, Food Empowerment Project and Pigs Peace Sanctuary.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:15 Kathryn's Intro

  • Understanding the harms animals experience under capitalist & settler colonial regimes, particularly in food systems
  • "Bringing individual animals into the frame"
  • Field work in farms & auction yards "spaces of exploitation"
  • Sanctuaries: Seeing the lasting harms of exploitation but also "places to imagine flourishing" & rehabilitation
  • Multi-species auto-ethnography. Everyday violence & care
  • Living w/chickens "turned us vegan" & lab-rescued beagles
  • Academia & activism

07:52 What's Real?

  • Raised somewhat in the Episcopal church
  • "That just did not resonate with me"
  • Visiting Baptist churches "that was incredible… a joyful explosion of faith"
  • A Buddhist grandmother & "Living Buddha, Living Christ" by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Practising Tibetan Buddhism as a teenager
  • Buddhist compassion & Episcopalian blessing of animals on St. Francis' day
  • Supernatural vs. naturalistic Buddhism "The supernatural stuff never appealed to me"
  • Envying the pure, comforting faith of a fundamentalist Christian best friend
  • Compassion for the other or because god tells you?
  • Pagan & Wiccan practics
  • People re-connecting with nature during COVID
  • The etymology of "real" in Latin/Sanksrit from "wealth"… the capitalisation/commodification of life
  • Emotional, embodied, lived experiences re: meaning, connection & knowledge making. Another form of evidence

32:10 What Matters?

  • Leftist, social justice activist parents. Protests & community work (Anti-war, anti-nuclear, feminist, black empowerment)
  • Compassion, justice, fairness

37:16 Who Matters?

  • A meat-eating family, but caring for wild animals "let's appreciate this being for who they are"
  • "Out of sight, out of mind" for non-humans but universal rights for all humans
  • Learning about animals in the food system
  • "Humane" animal farming
  • Raising backyard chickens "I love these 4 chicks" & buying a dead chicken for food "It was so disturbing… that was the beginning…"
  • Volunteering at sanctuaries
  • Eco/biocentrism… attending to plants?
  • Plant sentience/thinking?
  • Should we default to granting consideration or not?
  • Understanding crows w/out harmful research
  • "Do we need to know the specifics of other beings' experience in order to treat them with respect? No!"
  • Hierarchies/grading
  • Animal academics that eat them
  • Curiosity, intellect, empathy as ways into animal ethics
  • Films: Cow, Gunda
  • Scope neglect. David Wolfson: "It's 1 & 1 & 1" (not just 78bn)
  • "The edge of sanity… encountering the scale of violence against animals"
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Too much anthropomorphism "strips animals of their animality". Need humility
  • Imagining being a dairy cow
  • Orca carrying her dead calf… "beyond grief"?
  • Maslow/Kaufman @The Psychology Podcast needs catalogues
  • "Farming, in any format, curtails the most fundamental needs/interests"

1:24:40 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • Grandmother: "God made animals for us to eat"
  • Phasing out animal farming
  • Multi-species climate justice
  • Reproductive justice (insemination, separation, spay & neuter)
  • Reproduction & childcare as part of animal flourishing
  • Taking sanctuaries from the exception to the default
  • Capitalism: "I think we just need to burn it down" but "I don't think we have it [the alternative] yet"
  • The drive to minimise cost of labour was a driver of slavery
  • Local/global?
  • "Humane" farming limits "you're going to slaughter them".

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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