Blog Archives

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.

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

Abstract: He Loves to Race – or Does He? Ethics and Welfare in Racing

Posted on April 29th, 2019

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.

DOI: 10.4324/9781351002479-9    Pre-proof

Last edited 25.10.2019

Invited Talk – ITBF Congress in Cape Town 6-12.1.2017

Posted on February 14th, 2017

Iris presenting at the ITBF 2017 Congress in Cape Town

Presenting at the ITBF 2017 Congress in Cape Town

I had been given the opportunity to present the first findings of my interview study to an industry group. The International Thoroughbred Breeders Federation (ITBF) had invited me to speak at their Annual Congress in Cape Town 6-12 January 2017. A video recording of my presentation can be viewed online here.

An article with an overview of my talk appeared as a teaser to the event in the Sportingpost of South Africa.

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).

In the Media –

Posted on January 31st, 2017

Sustainability, Welfare and Thoroughbred Racing on EponaTV


Following my talk in Stockholm at the Equine Cultures in Transition Conference, Julie Taylor from asked for an interview.

In the interview with her, while I was thinking through the issues we were discussing, I have (re-)discovered yet another overlap between the animal welfare and the sustainability debate. As she summarises in her intro:

“How our unacknowledged value systems muddle the debate”

“Sustainability” is something of a buzz word in the horse industries. But it means different things to different people, as does the word “welfare”. And until we each investigate and lay open our values regarding horses, we cannot have a meaningful debate about right and wrong, says University of Sydney’s Dr. Iris Bergman, whose research is mapping out exactly what divides horse welfare advocates and industry stake holders in the animal rights and welfare debate.

Last edited 17.8.2018: Link to interview updated due to migration of site

Equine Cultures in Transition Conference, Stockholm 2016

Posted on November 29th, 2016

Thoroughbred at the starting gate of a race, Iffezheim, 2015. Photo: Iris Bergmann

Thoroughbred at the starting gate of a race, Iffezheim, 2015. Photo: IB

I have attended the Conference “Equine Cultures in Transition – Human-horse relationships in theory and practice: changing concepts of interaction and ethics”, in Stockholm, 27-29 October 2016. The conference had been organised by the Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge, and was held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry. Although it was not framed as such, this conference did make a valuable contribution to the range of questions that need to be addressed to advance the transition to a truly sustainable future, where sustainability extends to human-animal relationships. Viewed with that perspective in mind, the conference also demonstrated the seminal role of the social sciences and the humanities in advancing the sustainability transition.

This conference overall presented a rather holistic approach to human-animal relationships. Although the ongoing use of horses for human purposes was still in the foreground and approved, there was a lot of soul searching and questioning of our relationship with horses. The majority of the 60+ presenters were riders (leisure and competition riders), and therapists using horses. There apparently were also some who opposed riding horses (although I have not met one as far as I am aware). One of the therapists had decided to sell her therapy horses as her doubts about this practice had increased during the course of doing her PhD on this topic. (I would like to think she wished she could have been able to retire them at her place.)

I was most intrigued by individuals experimenting with more open, free-form human-horse relationships, where the aim is to facilitate the horse taking a leadership role in horse-human interactions, including in the practice of  horse riding.

In my talk, I presented preliminary results of the interview study of my project. I focused on the mental models of thoroughbred welfare held by industry participants and those held by representatives of animal protection organisations who engage with thoroughbred welfare in racing. I compared the mental models of welfare of these two groups and related them to conceptions of sustainability.

During the wrap-up of the conference, Lynda Birke (Universities of Chester and Glyndwr, UK) summarised the emerging themes as follows:

  • A desire for the horse’s voice to be heard with implications for methodological and ethical issues, and with an acknowledgment of the need for mixed-method approaches.
  • A search for ethical frameworks for our interaction with horses.
  • Accountability: The desire to make research matter, and being accountable to the subjects of the research – in terms of what is the impact on the horses, and humans, involved.

There was plenty of enthusiasm to continue with this conference stream under the same title, with the word going around that the next one might be held at Leeds, UK, in 2018.

Last edited 13.11.2018

Thoroughbred Welfare and Sustainability at Minding Animals 3

Posted on December 31st, 2014

Bay at a jumpsrace at Bendigo, Australia, 2014

At a jumps race at Bendigo, Australia, 2014

In only 13 days, I will be travelling to Delhi to present a paper at MAC3, the Minding Animals Conference 2015, titled Thoroughbred racing and the sustainability of welfare concepts.

For most of its existence, the thoroughbred racing industry has taken the thoroughbreds and the public for granted. Thoroughbreds die on racetracks and in training and death is accepted as part of the business model of thoroughbred racing. As veteran Australian horse trainer O’Connor states in 2014:

We lose one occasionally, that’s a fact and it can’t be helped. They lose the occasional horse on the flat.

Racing Victoria (2010) is known to have set key performance indicators in the past that included an acceptable death rate for jumps racing. Apart from death, thoroughbreds are exposed to a great number of other serious welfare issues which are an inherent part of training and racing in competition.

The industry claims commitment to welfare but fails to convince in light of recent undercover investigations (NYT 2012), ongoing controversy, reviews and hearings. Social acceptance of certain uses of animals and abusive ways of animal treatment and handling are waning. Accordingly, horse welfare in thoroughbred racing has been identified as a growing concern for the public so much so that it is considered a reason contributing to its decline (The Jockey Club 2011 pdf).

Some racing jurisdictions have moved beyond the stage of seeing the protection of thoroughbreds as part of an extremist agenda. Voices from within the racing industry call for a culture change. Weisbord (2014) puts the urgency for the industry to act most poignantly:

This isn’t the time for a measured response. This isn’t the time for model rules. This isn’t the time to shoot the messenger, and it’s not a time for band aids. This is a time for a radical change of the way we do business. We cannot come at this with a pop bottle rocket. This is the time for shock and awe. […] While we’re at it, let’s lose the whips, too.

Change is afoot, however, there is controversy over what constitutes welfare and what is good for the horse. This situation has been labeled the “horse welfare war”. The question arises what kind of welfare paradigm will prevail over time.

In my presentation, I will discuss welfare paradigms applied to thoroughbred racehorses, whether these models can be considered sustainable, and what constitutes a sustainable welfare concept.

The Last Lioness

Posted on September 21st, 2013

The Last Lioness. A Book about death. Photograph of two dummies - a lioness and a male mannequin with bags in safari colours, window display of a designer fashion store in Vienna, with reflections of the street, cars, advertising display.

Image: Iris Bergmann. Title: The Last Lioness. 2013

This is one of my contributions to A Book About Death / Australia, shown at the Tweed River Art Gallery, New South Wales, Australia, 18 October – 24 November 2013.

About ABAD Australia

The Australian exhibition is the 27th exhibition of A Book About Death. Paris based artist Matthew Rose instigated the first A Book About Death exhibition in 2009 in New York. Five hundred artists submitted five hundred copies of their artwork to the exhibition in the Emily Harvey Gallery.

On the opening night people came with plastic bags and collected the free artworks and so were able to create their own (unbound) book about death. Many people then went on to exhibit their collections at other galleries and so the exhibition grew into an international phenomena with artists curating their own exhibitions and calling for new artworks to be created for the new exhibitions.


Last edited 4.5.2017

Minding Animals 3: New Delhi, India, 13-20 January 2015

Posted on August 12th, 2013

Raj Panjwani, India 's leading animal advocate - Keynote address at Minding Animals 2, Utrecht 4 July 2012

The third Minding Animals Conference will be held in New Delhi, India, 13-20 January 2015:

Building Bridges Between the Natural and Social Sciences, the Humanities and Wildlife Protection.

The host for the conference will be the Wildlife Trust of India, in collaboration with Jawaharlal
Nehru University (JNU)
. The conference will be held at JNU and other locations in New Delhi.
Call for Abstracts will open in early 2014.

Both photographs in this post: Raj Panjwani, India’s leading animal advocate and animal rights lawyer, presenting his keynote address at Minding Animals 2, Utrecht 4 July 2012

ICAS Oceania: Critical Animal Studies Conference 2013 – Podcasts

Posted on August 12th, 2013

On 6 July 2013, ICAS Oceania held their first critical animal studies conference at the University of Canberra, Australia.

Podcasts of the one-day conference can be found here. Themes of the conference included Education and Animals, Film and Literature, Taking action, Approaches to change, Animals and Law.

Of particular interest in the current political Australian context is Professor Steve Garlick who gave a presentation under the theme Approaches to change. His talk was entitled Environmental Sustainability, Cognitive Justice and the Kangaroo. Steve is the founder, first and current president of the Animal Justice Party. The AJP will be standing candidates at the next Federal Election in Australia on 7 September 2013.

The Institute for Critical Animal Studies, ICAS, has currently seven regional offices: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America and Oceania. A summary of the aim and beliefs of ICAS can be found in their document Introducing Critical Animal Studies [pdf]. There they write:

The aim of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS) is to provide a space for the development of a “critical” approach to animal studies, one which perceives that relations between human and nonhuman animals are now at a point of crisis which implicates the planet as a whole.

The term critical animal studies (CAS) has emerged from within animal rights and liberation academics and activists. They differentiate themselves from animal studies which they also refer to as “mainstream animal studies”. They regard the burgeoning field of animal studies as being “strangely detached from the dire plight of nonhuman animals, human beings, and the Earth.” They acknowledge that “scholars working in animal studies have made significant contributions to our understanding of the historical, sociological, and philosophical aspects of human/nonhuman animal relations.” But they argue that the animal studies approach has limitations and does not truly confront the most inhumane practices of animal exploitation such as can be found in industrial animal agriculture, vivisection and carnivorist lifestyles. They believe that the mainstream approach, in purporting to be objective, in fact supports animal exploitation. They argue that it is an illusion that “theory is disinterested or writing and research is nonpolitical”. Therefore, one of their interests is to expose the values and political commitments inherent in mainstream animal studies. Critical animals studies scholars seek an interdisciplinary collaborative approach including perspectives they believe are generally ignored by animal studies such as political economy. They align themselves with other struggles against any form of oppression and hierarchy, including struggles against racism, sexism, speciesism and militarism. They argue that all endeavours to overcome any form of exploitation of humans, nonhuman animals and the Earth are inseparable, referring to Martin Luther King Jr. who proclaimed that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

To fulfill their mission, ICAS has four programs:

1. Development – creating projects, initiatives, organisations, groups and academic departments and programs.
2. Scholarship – publishing position papers, journals, books and hosting forums such as conferences and lectures.
3. Advocacy – activism, outreach, publicity and networking.
4. Education – formal workshops, training, courses and classes.

They have developed a 3 part strategy addressing ecology, humans and nonhumans through holistic, intersectional and interdependent theory and activism:

Holistic – including all life and elements
Intersectional – acknowledging differing identities amongst all life and elements
Interdependent – respecting that all life and elements need one another

Institute of Critical Animal Studies Strategy

ICAS Strategy

Last edited 15.9.2013