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Exploring the rights of animals

Exploring the rights of animals

Dean & Professor Alice Hovorka

How do we think about animals? Where do we put them, where do they belong? How do we interact with them? Are these human-animal relations good, bad, or otherwise?

These are some of the questions that EUC Dean and Professor Alice J. Hovorka has investigated through two SSHRC Insight Grants on The Lives of Animals in Botswana (2012-2016) and Animal Governance in Botswana and Canada (2016-2022). Working with Professor Hovorka is a team of graduate students as part of The Lives of Animals Research Group with case studies highlighting the circumstances and experiences of animals, as well as the broader structures and dynamics that shape their daily lives. The research is interdisciplinary and action-oriented with a goal of facilitating sustainable and just interspecies relations.

African wild dogs in Botswana.
Photo credit: Mark Hovorka

Recent publications highlight the rights of animals as sentient, lively actors within the realms of conservation and factory farming. In an article Compassionate Conservation: Exploring the Lives of African Wild Dogs in Botswana, Fraser-Celin and Hovorka argue that animals should be positioned as subjects in research and scholarship to further develop compassionate conservation, a new field that aims to bridge conservation biology and animal welfare science. Animals can be treated as subjects by attending to their lived experiences and by recognizing their capacity to act. It presents wild dogs as thinking, feeling, and sentient animals who have agency (capacity to act), and whose welfare is negatively affected by habitat loss and conflict with farmers. By positioning wild dogs as subjects, an ethical starting point can be developed for a more compassionate conservation that appreciates the complex lives of wild animals, their circumstances, and their experiences. 

Hog-human relations.
Photo credit: R Owen-Wahl

In another article Animals, Vulnerability and Global Environmental Change: the Case of Industrial Livestock Production Systems in North Carolina, Stoddard and Hovorka argue for the inherent rights and respect owed farmed animals whose health and wellbeing are central to global food systems. Highlighting animals as actors in complex systems, they illuminate hog vulnerability to oppressive structures and processes, as well as hog resilience and coping strategies despite exploitation. Doing so reveals the detrimental harm to animals themselves, and to broader social and environmental contexts as well.

Professor Hovorka has published a series of articles in Progress in Human Geography on animal geographies (2016-2018), and numerous articles in the area of human animal studies. She is co-editor (with Sandra McCubbin and Lauren Van Patter) of the book A Research Agenda for Animal Geographies (2021). She holds degrees in geography from Queen's University (BA), Carleton University (MA) and Clark University (PhD). Her scholarship has been recognized through a Humboldt Research Fellowship and the Jan Monk Distinguished Professorship. Professor Hovorka’s research broadly explores human-environment relationships and is theoretically informed by feminist, poststructuralist and post-humanist philosophical perspectives. Her fields of specialization include animal geographies, gender and environment, urban geography, Southern Africa, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.