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 a snapshot of how the literature in the field of sustainability addresses the animal question, how the animal science and welfare literature addresses the sustainability question, and how the animal studies literature engages with the notion of sustainability. The majority of studies seeking to advance the animal perspective within the latter realm are situated within the animal food consumption and production sector. Others focus on sustainable development and in particular the Sustainable Development Goals. There are however also some who embed their work in critical and holistic perspectives of sustainability theory. Still, progress is slow, and consequently, animal interests remain underrepresented in recent sustainability programs and policy related documents. Moreover, some animal advocates see the idea of sustainability as anathema to animal protection. I gave an overview of the articles published in the long established animal studies journal Society & Animals that make reference to sustainability or sustainable development. They were far and few inbetween, and mostly, they referred to sustainable development or the Sustainable Development Goals in their introduction to underline the contextual relevance of their work. I then discussed an article written by a critical animals studies scholar published elsewhere, and her critique of what she considers to be the sustainability episteme. I concluded the seminar with some thoughts on whether or not we should be hanging on to the notion of sustainability for advancing animal interests, and with a note of caution.


Edited 12 Jan 2024