We are delighted to announce that our PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, Lucy Parry, has now successfully submitted her thesis and passed her oral exam (‘viva’) to gain her doctorate in animal protection politics. The CASJ is delighted to have supported the advancement of knowledge to help animals. We’d like to thank the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield and her supervisors Dr Alasdair Cochrane and Dr Hayley Stevenson. Here, Lucy, who has now established herself as Britain’s leading expert on the foxhunting debate and has already published in peer-reviewed outlets, summarises her findings:
My thesis is a deliberative systems analysis of the foxhunting debate. I analyse the debate from the perspective of deliberative democracy; it is systemic because I identify and analyse the debate in different communicative settings – public space (i.e. open and accessible settings involving members of the public, activists and the media), Parliament, and in-between sites such as newspapers and campaign organisations. I assess how and where different viewpoints on hunting ‘travel’ through different settings. To do this, I conducted an in-depth study into discourses on hunting with actors in the public sphere. I then analysed debates in Westminster to see which viewpoints were present, and if they had changed. I also evaluate the hunting debate from a deliberative democratic perspective, i.e. how deliberative is the hunting debate? This was driven by my argument that deliberative democracy has the potential to enhance animal protection.
Deliberative democracy places collective reasoning at the heart of decision-making. Ideally, it encompasses reasoned argument, consideration of alternative views, mutual respect and reflexivity – the ability to reflect on your own preferences and sometimes, change them. Below I outline my key findings for animal protection.
The hunting debate
I conducted an in-depth study to identify narratives on hunting. A wide range of people took part including animal protection organisations, former activists, hunters and hunting advocates. The four viewpoints identified are:
- Liberal-progressive: objects to hunting on the basis that it is cruel and serves no practical purpose. A further objection is that hunting is outdated and that modern British society has moved beyond that type of activity. It employs the animal welfare ethic where animal use is justified by necessity and if carried out humanely. It upholds that debates around hunting should be open and diverse. Anyone can have an opinion on hunting and can bring something to the discussion.
- Countryside management: argues that hunting is a form of wildlife management and pest control. The British countryside is a man-made environment and needs to be actively managed. Makes a distinction between wild and domesticated animals and argues that they should be treated differently. It values an open debate on hunting, but at the time believes that those opposed to hunting just don’t understand it.
- Sporting libertarian: argues that hunting is not an effective way of controlling foxes. But it is a legitimate sport and should be allowed to continue. There is definitely a place for hunting in today’s society and just because people don’t like it, that’s not a reason to stop. This position hates perceived inconsistency in others’ views – like if people oppose foxhunting but they still eat meat.
- Critical-radical: against hunting for the same reasons as the first position, but with a stronger inclination towards giving animals the same moral consideration as humans. Puts forward a political argument about the class structure and why hunting continues to be such a contentious issue. Closer to an animal rights view but does not explicitly endorse it. Critical of the farming industry and considers power relations to be an important aspect of the hunting debate.
This study shows that the hunting debate is more complex than just pro and anti. Most importantly, it suggests that animal welfare and animal rights are closely aligned and have more in common than not; the two viewpoints are 76% correlated. This goes against efforts in parts of the mainstream media to divide the animal protection movement into two. Recently, media reports have lambasted organisations like the RSPCA who have been ‘accused of becoming too focused on animals rights rather than animal welfare, its traditional role’ (Telegraph.co.uk 2016). However, the majority of my research participants aligned with both liberal-progressive and the critical-radical viewpoints. This serves as a unifying boost to the movement and a response to those who deliberately seek to divide and conquer animal protection.
I tracked these four discourses into debates in Parliament. Whilst the first two positions are quite well represented in Westminster, the latter two discourses are distorted and much weaker. In particular, the critical-radical discourse is presented as an attack on the ‘Tory toff’. But this caricature is not part of the original viewpoint; there is a critique of the class structure but it does not rely on the ‘Tory toff’ stereotype. The distortion of this discourse makes it vulnerable to attack and risks alienating MPs and the public who are against hunting. The distortion of the critical-radical viewpoint is worrying for animal protection; it is the most radical and counter-hegemonic position yet is reduced to a bit of a joke in the corridors of power.
I also analysed three different cases to see how messages are transmitted from public to power, and vice versa. Of particular interest is the Blue Fox group (Conservatives Against Fox Hunting). Unlike so many of the protagonists, this group fosters a constructive and supportive atmosphere, aiming to grow the number of anti-hunting Tory MPs. Its approach is respectful and seeks to persuade, rather than further entrench disagreement. It is a rare example of a more deliberative approach in the hunting debate. Most importantly, the group has also been pretty successful in increasing the number of anti-hunting Tories in recent years. This suggests that a more deliberative approach could be favourable when trying to persuade MPs.
Blue Fox is a unique case, founded by local Conservative members and working within the party with existing MPs. It is a lot harder for an external organisation to gain traction in the same way. Therefore, whilst a more deliberative approach can in theory enhance animal protection, the Westminster system undermines both deliberative democracy and animal protection at the moment. The dominance of adversarial party political and the concentration of power in the executive mean that meaningful, respectful and constructive dialogue around hunting is unlikely.
Nonetheless, my research still shows that a more deliberative approach to animal protection could yield valuable results. Previous studies have shown that those in animal use industries may be more open to persuasion by rational argument (Brown and Quinn-Allan 2015). Another study found that animal activists are more susceptible to visceral responses like disgust or horror (Herzog and Golden 2009). This suggests that tactics such as graphic imagery or emotional shocks are useful in cementing animal protectionists’ conviction, but less useful in seeking to persuade others. We need to consider what animal protectionists’ aims are: are they trying to build their support base, appealing to those who already agree? Or are they trying to persuade government or industry to change their ways? Animal protectionists need to be aware of this in how they proceed. That the most radical discourse on hunting is poorly represented in parliament suggests that there is much work to be done to articulate a stronger animal protection position.
Brown, A. & Quinn-Allan, D. (2015) ‘Bridging empathy and protective indifference? Animal welfare, online engagement, and the activist-slacktivist divide’, In the Australasian Animal Studies Association. Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activist, University of Melbourne, 12-15 July 2015, Unpublished.
Herzog, H. A., & Golden, L. L. (2009) ‘Moral emotions and social activism: the case of animal rights’, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 65, pp. 485-498.
Telegraph.co.uk (2016) ‘RSPCA boss says sorry for blunders and admits charity was too political’, Telegraph.co.uk [online], available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/13/rspca-boss-says-sorry-for-blunders-and-admits-charity-was-too-po/