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Conference Panel at AASA 2021

Posted on November 24th, 2021

Together with Hélène Le Deunff, I will be co-convening a panel at the conference “Flourishing Animals” of the Australasian Animal Studies Association (AASA) which is happening online next week, 30 Nov – 2 Dec 2021.

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.

For the Sydney Environment Institute Blog

Posted on November 5th, 2020

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…

New Publication: Thoroughbred Welfare, Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Racing

Posted on August 28th, 2020

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…

Bergmann, Iris M. 2020. Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants. Animals 10(9): 1513. DOI: 10.3390/ani10091513.

Last edited 24/10/2020