As part of their CfHAS 2023 Seminar Series. Richard Twine and the Centre for Human Animal Studies (CfHAS) at Edge Hill University invited me to give a seminar on the absence of animals in sustainability discourses. For this talk, I focused on a specific dimension of this conundrum: The lack of engagement of animal studies scholars with the notion of sustainability, and where there is engagement, the unfortunate consequences of not carefully distinguishing between sustainability and sustainable development. “Sustainability – A dirty word for animal advocates? – The many ways in which animals are abandoned in sustainability discourses.” I began this presentation by exploring how the discourse in the intersection of sustainability and animal protection has evolved in the past five years. I provided…
In October 2022, I gave a presentation for the National Conference of the Animal Justice Party (Australia). For this, I emphasised the point that the political movement for animals has a lot to gain from engaging with the sustainability agenda, in particular in light of the transformation to sustainability which in some places, in some ways, in some contexts, has begun: “Animals and the Sustainability Transformation: What the Political Movement for Animals can gain from engaging with the Sustainability Agenda.” Here the abstract: The concepts of sustainability, resilience, adaptation and transformation are called on to address the multiple crises we are facing. They represent policy goals or program objectives. Following a brief overview of these concepts, this presentation focuses on transformation, and on the…
Helena Maria Saari and the Envisioning Sustainability Research Hub invited me to give an online guest lecture for their monthly meeting on 28 April 2022. The Envisioning Sustainability Research Hub is part of the Biodiverse Anthropocenes Research Program of the University of Oulu. I gave an introduction to the notion of Interspecies Sustainability: “Interspecies Sustainability – What is it? Why do we need it? Where does it take us?” Here is the abstract: In recent years, conceptual reframings of the dominant sustainability paradigm are taking hold and aspects of these are entering influential spaces such as UN reports. Unfortunately, the interests of nonhuman animals remain underrepresented if not ignored. This paper begins by outlining the reasons for the historical neglect of the interests of…
With two other panellists, that is Jan Deckers from Newcastle University (UK) and Helena Röcklinsberg from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, we will discuss the intersection of sustainability and animal protection, the title of our panel being “Sustainability as a Promise of Flourishing in Light of the Animal Question”.
Despite the unsustainability of the dominant sustainability discourse and practice for animals, we argue not to discard the notion of sustainability and instead, explore how to advance its utility for animal flourishing. We offer four presentations of conceptual, ethical, and practice-oriented inquiries into the animalisation of sustainability, and will then open to discussion.
– Jan will demonstrate that strong anthropocentrism as a worldview disables any transition to sustainability and animal flourishing, discussing the unacknowledged strong anthropocentrism manifest in guiding documents of the Catholic Church. He will sketch a qualified vegan ethic as a critical corrective.
– Based on a paper published together with Torpman, Helena will provide an ethical evaluation of the underlying anthropocentric assumptions of the Sustainable Development Goals. She argues that there are no good reasons to uphold these assumptions, and that the SDGs should therefore be reconsidered so that they take animals into direct consideration.
– Hélène will experiment with a different understanding of what gets to count as “sustainable water access”. She proposes that animal water flourishing can help humans reimagine water well-being as multi-species and cooperative, for more sustainable futures.
– In my presentation, I will discuss my previous work where I developed a framework for interspecies sustainability. I will then provide a first outline of how the study of the transformation to interspecies sustainability relates to and can benefit from the field of transformations studies.
Following our presentations, we will open to discussion of our arguments and possible future directions, and will take questions from the audience.
We have set up a website for our panel with some background information, short bios, presentation abstracts and resources including references and links to our previous works closely related to our presentations.
My piece “Sustainability and Thoroughbred Racing – An Oxymoron?” written for the blog of the Sydney Environment Institute was published on the day of the Melbourne Cup 3 November 2020. Two hours later, Anthony Van Dyck, a four year old Irish stallion, broke his fetlock 400m before the finish of the race, was taken away in an ambulance and killed / euthanised in the vet clinic the same day. “Pandemic or not, the Spring Racing Carnival in Australia is in full swing. COVID-19, climate emergency, species extinction, habitat loss, our exceeding of planetary boundaries and reaching tipping points, all are confronting us with our failure at our quest for sustainability. A marker of this failure is that the dominant conceptions of sustainability, such as…
My latest article has just been published: Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants. It has always been very interesting to me to see what kind of images of horses involved in racing the racing industry has used for their messaging. I kept wondering: Don’t they really look at the horse? Are they not worried about the kind of story the horse is telling the outside world about common racing practices? Turns out in some cases they are.
My recently published article brings into spotlight the impact of common racing practices on thoroughbreds, and the consequences of the racing industry’s non-recognition of these impacts.
The international thoroughbred industry is concerned about the public’s perception of racing. In terms of welfare, their priorities are to address the publicly most visible and known welfare violations: Drugs and medication in racing, injury and death on the racetrack and “wastage” (the fate of thoroughbreds no longer used in racing). But many common day-to-day racing practices also impact thoroughbred welfare.
For this study, key industry informants and animal advocacy informants were interviewed to find out how they view common racing practices. For the interviews, photographs of thoroughbreds on raceday were used, which the informants were asked to describe.
Results show industry informants mostly naturalise, normalise, downplay or ignore the horses’ expressions, the impact of handling on the horse and the use of equipment. Most saw the thoroughbred as a willing participant even in the presence of behavioural and emotional expressions that indicated stress, fear and pain. They tended to use assumptions of the nature of thoroughbreds as explanations for the thoroughbreds’ emotional and behavioural expressions. The industry informants and the thoroughbred industry at large see nature as a limiting factor to be overcome through invasive means.
The animal advocacy informants also used assumptions about the nature of the horse as an explanation for the thoroughbreds’ mental and behavioural expressions on raceday. However, they tended to view the thoroughbreds’ assumed mental and behavioural predispositions as an explanation for why racing practices are not in the interest of their welfare. They mostly saw the thoroughbreds’ expressions as indicating stress, agitation, being disturbed and experiencing anxiety. They tended to see a horse whose nature is violated.
The study concludes that the industry informants show limited interest in addressing common racing practices, and this places thoroughbred welfare at risk. The notion of naturalness emerges as a relevant concept that can be used to advance the animal protection discourse.
The study also demonstrates the application of an analytical tool, the Layers of Engagement with Animal Protection, that can be adopted to interrogate other human-animal relationships, multispecies communities and animal industries.
With society’s understanding of welfare and of racing practices growing, the racing industry may be increasingly questioned about common racing practices.
Next time you see a thoroughbred in person or in an image on raceday, perhaps ask yourself what it is that you see. Perhaps you see something different before and after you have read the article…
So pleased to see this published. What kept me going was the desire to give the horses in the racing industry a voice. Bergmann, Iris M. 2019. Interspecies Sustainability to Ensure Animal Protection: Lessons from the Thoroughbred Racing Industry. Sustainability 11(19), 5539. Abstract: There is a disconnect between dominant conceptions of sustainability and the protection of animals arising from the anthropocentric orientation of most conceptualisations of sustainability, including sustainable development. Critiques of this disconnect are primarily based in the context of industrial animal agriculture and a general model of a species-inclusive conception of sustainability has yet to emerge. The original contribution of this article is two-fold: First, it develops a theoretical framework for interspecies sustainability. Second, it applies this to a case study of…
So wonderful to receive this book with my chapter in the mail!
Abstract: This chapter explores how representatives of the thoroughbred racing industry conceptualise thoroughbred welfare, what their ethical underpinnings are, how this contrasts with welfare conceptions expressed by thoroughbred protection advocates and what this means for thoroughbred welfare. The research presented here is part of a larger study that investigates the future for horses in thoroughbred racing and the sustainability of welfare concepts. Nine industry representatives from the US and Australia, and seven representatives of thoroughbred advocacy organisations from the US, Australia and Great Britain, have been interviewed. Industry informants characterise welfare mainly in terms of basic health and functioning. The welfare dimensions of thoroughbred agency, integrity and telos are largely ignored. Three main groups of welfare issues emerge: the use and potential overuse of drugs and medication; injuries and death on the racetrack; and the aftercare of thoroughbreds exiting the industry. It appears the industry pursues three objectives with their welfare initiatives: to address only the most egregious welfare violations of industry practices on and off the track; to influence the public’s perception of the industry and its treatment of the thoroughbred; and to focus on productivity, efficiency and optimisation of the commodifiable characteristics of the thoroughbred. It is not likely that this will result in net gains for thoroughbred welfare.
(Abstract for indexing purposes, not included in published version.)
Bergmann, Iris. 2019. “He Loves to Race – or Does He? Ethics and Welfare in Racing.” In Equine Cultures in Transition: Ethical Questions, 1st edition, edited by Jonna Bornemark, Petra Andersson and Ulla Ekström von Essen. Routledge Advances in Sociology. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 117-133.
The wonderful team of editors in Stockholm, Jonna Bornemark, Petra Andersson and Ulla Ekström von Essen, have compiled a book titled “Equine Cultures in Transition: Ethical Questions”, in publication by Routledge, with 16 intriguing chapters, mostly drawing on presenters of the Equine Cultures conference in Stockholm in 2016. I am proud to be part of this volume and am looking forward to seeing the finished publication, due in January 2019. With my chapter: “He Loves to Race – or does He? Ethics and Welfare in Racing”, I present part of the results of my interview study involving nine thoroughbred racing industry representatives from the US and Australia, and seven representatives of thoroughbred advocacy organisations from the US, Australia and Great Britain. The results of…
The ITBF has funded my travel and accommodation to Cape Town to deliver the invited presentation. The research however has been independently funded through a University of Sydney Postgraduate Scholarship, out of an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (ARC DP130104933).