Thoroughbred Racing and the Sustainability of Welfare Concepts

Race day activity: Handlers forcing a thoroughbred into the starting gate

Race day activity: Handlers forcing a thoroughbred into the starting gate. Image: Iris Bergmann.


I am member of an international research team working on the project “Caring for Thoroughbreds: Addressing social, economic and welfare issues in international horse racing”. The project is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) through their highly competitive Discovery Project scheme. It is based at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Science.


I am supported with a postgraduate scholarship to undertake doctoral research  as part of this larger study. The project is based on the premise that the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is of economic, social and cultural importance in Australia, and in our international study locations of New Zealand, the USA, Ireland and the United Kingdom.


Our study is situated within the interdisciplinary field of human-animal studies and brings together geographical, veterinary and economic approaches to address research questions pertaining to the care of thoroughbreds and future of racing. We explore the range of values that inform or question activities such as jumps racing, the use of whips, the racing of young horses and the post-racing career of thoroughbreds.


With my background in capacity building for sustainability, I bring a unique perspective to this research project. In the first part of my research, I am specifically interested in extending the sustainability discourse to include all animals, and to explore the usefulness of applying sustainability language to human-animal relationships. This also serves to develop a broader conceptual framework for my investigation within the intersection of sustainability and animal studies. I then zoom in on racing horses as a critical issue in human-animal interaction, applying sustainability thinking and language.


UNESCO Green School Action Project 2012-2013

With students, the class teacher, the representative of the Indonesian office of KOICA Mr Sungho Choi (Korea International Cooperation Agency) who is funding the Green School Action Project, and Professor Hubert Gijzen, Director and Representative of UNESCO Office Jakarta.

With students, Indonesian class teacher, Mr Sungho Choi who is the representative of the Indonesian office of KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency) who is funding the Green School Action Project, and Professor Hubert Gijzen, Director and Representative of UNESCO Office Jakarta.

In November 2012, I have been to Jakarta and Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan on Borneo, to learn about the educational system in Indonesia, and to better understand their efforts in establishing environmental education and education for sustainable development in schools. My work involves the development of the conceptual framework and teaching resources for five themes: Biodiversity, Forests, Water, Waste and Energy.

Manuscript: UNESCO Green School Action Project, teaching resources for five themes: Biodiversity, Forests, Water, Waste and Energy.

Minding Animals Conference 04.-06.07.2012 in Utrecht, NL

My abstracts on the topic of “Images of farm animals – plurality of readings and their implications” have been accepted both for an oral and a poster presentation at the Minding Animals Conference in Utrecht in July this year.
I will also be part of a lunchtime roundtable on “Meat” acting as scribe, with Carrie Freeman (Georgia State University) and Jan Deckers (Newcastle University, UK) as Co-convenors.

In these presentations, I will outline part of a larger study that investigated Australians’ attitudes toward factory farming. Aim of that study was to explore Australians’ knowledge of factory farming, their knowledge of the impact of factory farming on farm animals, the environment, and communities; to explore the participants’ attitudes towards farm animals and factory farming; and to identify the factors that would lead Australians to support or actively reject factory farming. Six focus groups were conducted in rural and metropolitan areas across three states. The focus group sessions included three phases and employed participatory photographic methods, group discussions and facilitator presentation.


The presentations I will give at Minding Animals 2 will focus on the first phase. This phase was designed to elicit the participants’ thoughts on farm animals, and the ideas they held about farm animals when they entered the focus group setting. The aim was to better understand the participants’ views of farm animals and how these relate to their attitudes toward factory farming.


The views varied from seeing farm animals as resources and objects, to perceiving them as distinct, unique individuals with their own relevant emotional and cognitive faculties. For many, the images evoked strong emotional responses. Moreover, the images evoked thoughts that were, as some indicated, new to themselves. It seemed that often, the images facilitated a process of seeing oneself within the other, of recognising emotional states and of what may feel good and what not.


They also showed the reverse process, an overlaying of the animal condition onto the human condition, that is a process of reflecting upon the human condition by seeing the animal condition.

Sow in farrowing crate, Image: Animal Rights Advocates Inc.


Responses also brought to light the diverging views of what constitutes ‘humane’ treatment of farm animals. It is intriguing to note that one and the same image can evoke a whole spectrum of such responses. For example, an image of a sow in a farrowing crate with piglets suckling triggered comments that ranged from “the pig, while confined, is not noticeably uncomfortable” to a reading of it as the “putrefaction” of the mother-child relationship. This has implications for the communication of animal issues using images.

Wessex Saddleback sow raising her piglets free-range as ‘in nature’, Copyright Fiona Chambers, Fernleigh Free-Range

A phenomenon came to light that may give reason for concern: Images depicting farm animals in their natural environment where they expressed natural behaviours were repeatedly described by some as “idealized”, “utopian” and “fantasyland”.


This brings to light critical issues for communicating and educating about farm animal welfare issues. It points to the need to devise strategies to address such issues, and to maintain a critical and non-complacent perspective on the discussion of farm animal welfare.


The presentations includes a description of the visual method, a number of images used and the range of participants’ responses to the images. I will describe the interaction between the participants and the images as a participatory process, including the mechanisms involved in the interplay between images and thought processes. Visual methods can unearth deeper, hidden layers of thought and emotion and I will reflect on the relevant processes within the context of the neuroscientific concept of mirror neurons, the kinaesthetic dimension in cognitive psychology, phenomenology and theories of photography.

More information on Minding Animals International here


Green Economy – Green Skills High Level Policy Briefing and Symposium 12.-13.04.2012 in Melbourne

I have convened the Green Economy – Green Skills High Level Policy Briefing and Symposium, held 12.-13.04.2012 in Melbourne. The events were hosted by the EU Centre at RMIT University, in partnership with the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) and TAFE Directors Australia (TDA), supported by the RMIT Sustainability Committee. Program and presentations are available here.


Policy Briefings as an initiative of the EU Centre offer senior government, business and union leaders the opportunity to engage in discussions about key policy issues facing Australia, drawing on European Union experience. They are invitation only events.


The Policy Briefing under the umbrella “Green Economy – Green Skills” explores progress and challenges in developing a “Green” Economy.
The “Green Economy – Green Skills” Symposium is held to promote the sharing of experiences in the development of policy, programs and practice in Green Skills.


Simonas Gausas, Visionary Analytics, Lithuania, currently involved in the Eurofound study ‘Growth and employment: Anticipating and managing the effects of greening of industries in the EU’ (2011-2012). He will introduce the concept of “Green Economy” and discuss actions taken in Europe to advance and promote Green Economy, Green Jobs and Green Skills.
Ben Eltham, Fellow at the Centre for Policy Development (Cdp) in Sydney is the author of the report “Australia’s Green Economic Potential”. He will contextualise Green Economy – Green Skills for policy development and the skills agenda in the Australian context.

SYMPOSIUM, PANEL 1 Presenters:

  • Prof Huang Chunlin (Chandler), Vice President, Zhejiang Technical Institute of Economics (ZJTIE), Zhejiang Province, CHINA
  • Dr Namchul Lee, Korean Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training (KRIVET), KOREA
  • Mr Jason Van Ballegooyen, a/g Director I Green Skills & New Technology, Industry Skills & Productivity, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE)

SYMPOSIUM, PANEL 2 Presenters:

  • Mr Mark Callaghan, CEO World Skills Forum (Gen Green)
  • Mr Martin Riordan, CEO TAFE Directors Australia (TDA Role and Activities)
  • Prof Rupert Maclean, Director, Centre for Lifelong Learning Research and Development, Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd), HONG KONG (Research)

The audience includes TAFE Directors, RMIT VET staff, representatives of Industry Skills Councils, unions, research institutes and centres, policy makers, federal and state government level, innovative teachers from VET programs, individual TAFE Institutes and others with an interest in skills for Green Economies.


DATE: Friday 13.04.2012, 09:00-16:00 (registration from 08:30)

VENUE: RMIT University, Emily McPherson Building, Cnr Russell/Victoria Sts, Melbourne

Green Economy – Green Skills Symposium speakers and session chairs: Rupert Maclean, Bruce Wilson, John Fien, Simonas Gausas, Namchul Lee, Huang Chunlin, Jason Van Ballegooyen and Martin Riordan. Missing in the image are Ben Eltham, Mark Callaghan, Linda Condon and Iris Bergmann.

Updated 8.2.2018



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