In October 2012 I was awarded the Centre for Animals and Social Justice’s first ever studentship for a PhD on the Political Representation of Animals at the University of Leicester. I have been engaging with issues relating to animal protection since I was fourteen: this was when I first learnt about industrial agriculture, vivisection and all the other forms of animal abuse taking place in our societies. I quickly began to get involved first at school, then at University and more recently through the international NGO Slow Food.
My experience at Slow Food, an association that works on food education and sustainability, really helped me to understand the bigger picture concerning food production by interacting with small-scale farmers, cheese makers & fishermen from all around the world. I understood that there is a story behind the food we eat and it is important that we learn and think about it when making our daily consumption choices. I also learnt that food from industrial and intensive production does not have a story, quite to the contrary in fact: animals are alienated and treated as mere commodities or machines, with little or no consideration for their emotional or physical needs and desires.
Since I first came to learn about the different forms of animal suffering taking place, I knew from the start that I wanted to take an active part in making a difference. The real question was understanding how I wanted to make that difference. In recent years, big steps have been made in animal protection thanks to the work of passionate activists, academics, pressure groups and NGO’s. However, if we consider how rapidly industrial agriculture is growing or even recent debates concerning animal experimentation regulations, it is clear that much still remains to be done.
The research that I am engaging in at the University of Leicester with Prof. Rob Garner and with the support of the CASJ aims to investigate the ways animals are represented in politics today (through animal welfare laws or in constitutions, for instance) and understand how we can change things to ensure that animals are effectively protected and represented. It is a new and very exciting area of research and up till now only a handful of academics have looked at this possibility. Some, for instance, have suggested that we reserve specific seats in Parliaments to be representatives of animals, in order to ensure that the interests of animals are taken into account within decision making. Others argue that including animal welfare as a Constitutional principle is sufficient to ensure that this occurs.
My research is also informed by the developments that have taken place in the debate concerning the representation of future generations. This is because future generations share some characteristics with animals: they cannot enter into dialogue in the same way as humans would, yet they are, or will be, deeply affected by the decisions we make today. It is now increasingly accepted that concern should be given to the interests of future generations, some countries have even created designated institutions, such as Future Generation Ombudsmen, to make sure that their ‘voice’ is heard. Might this also be a possibility in the case of animals? This is what my next three years will be devoted to discovering.
My hope is that this research will truly make an impact that will go beyond the boundaries of academia and will positively influence institutions and governments and their animal protection policies. This is precisely the aim of the Centre for Animals and Social Justice’s work and I believe that it can be a powerful instrument in the advancement of animal protection within the UK and beyond.
I would personally like to thank the CASJ and all its supporters for allowing me to have this incredible opportunity to make a difference, without their support this would not be possible. I hope that in the future many other young, bright and passionate individuals will also have the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of animals through their research, and through the CASJ I know that this can happen.