Trying to find out whether the notion of sustainability can be redeemed to include animal protection and flourishing….

I am researching the use of the concept of sustainability, in theory and practice, with regard to its intention to include the protection of animals. The intersection of sustainability and animal protection include the relationships humans have with all animals, including wildlife, companion animals, farm animals and animals that occupy liminal spaces. Unfortunately, the dominant sustainability discourse has excluded animals as subjects and bearers of interests in their own rights. For a truly sustainable future for life on this planet, this has to change.

To investigate the intersection of sustainability and animal protection, I use the practice of horseracing as a case study. The horse is situated within and between the socially constructed categories of farm animals and companion animals. Moreover, the horseracing industry is considered an industry of global economic significance. As with other animal using industries, its practices are increasingly coming under scrutiny, and the horseracing industry is grappling with its sustainability and public perception of animal welfare. The industry’s understanding of what constitutes sustainability and animal welfare, and how it addresses issues of public perception and its social license to operate, all form part of this investigation. Informants of my research have been individuals from the US, UK and Australia, including senior executive and administrative staff of the horseracing industry and animal protection advocates and activists.

In the wake of the ratification of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the questions this research addresses have significance at the level of policy globally, since governments, industry bodies, higher education institutions and the not-for-profit sector across the globe have begun to adopt the SDGs.  I have been supported in this research as a PhD researcher through a University of Sydney Postgraduate scholarship, funded out of an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (ARC DP130104933).

My background is in capacity building for sustainability. So my work also always considers the question of how do we build individual and societal capacity for a truly sustainable future, that is a future in which animals, nature and humans flourish, bearing in mind that we are all interconnected and part of nature.

My “official” entry into animal studies began with the award of the Factory Farming Grant by Voiceless the animal protection institute, to research attitudes towards industrial animal agriculture in Australia. I was then based as Research Fellow at RMIT University. Between 2013 and 2021, I have been based at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Science, School of Geosciences.

My PhD research is completed with the thesis titled “Towards Interspecies Sustainability: The Future for Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbred Racing”,  and the publication of 3 journal articles, 1 book chapter, 3 invited and 6 other conference presentations (references here).

I am now working as independent scholar, advisor and educator to advance the notion of Interspecies Sustainability within the context of the transformation (to sustainability) and for policy development.

Iris M. Bergmann

  • PhD (Sustainability and Animal Studies | Geography), The University of Sydney
  • PhD (Environmental Education and Cognition), Southern Cross University
  • DipEd, Scientific Institute for School Practice, Bremen
  • BEd, University of Bremen

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Updated 22.08.2022