ANR COW project

(nov. 2012 / nov. 2015)

Animal companions: theorizing animals relationship to work





In the Western world essentially, the “animal issue” is one of the important parameters of social relations. The theories about animal liberation imply radical new relationships with domestic animals and possibly a break with them.  Criticisms about the animal production industry but also about numerous other sectors related to animals (circus, zoos, bull fighting…) undermine these activities and question their legitimacy. These criticisms weaken the professionals themselves who face new values, sensitivities and representations that they did not anticipate and are not prepared to cope with.

The research done on the role of animals in our societies, irrespective of the scientific field or the country in which it’s carried out, forgets the fundamental root of our relationship with domestic animals: work. The “animal issue” study does not take into account work experience of several millennia with animals. The work dimension associated with animals is totally absent from scientific, social and ethical controversies.

Our project is meant to question the status of animals at the workplace. Our strong assumption based upon our primary studies is that animals are not simply objects but are also subjective actors. In other words, our relationships with animals at the workplace are not only explained by our supposed domination, since the Neolithic Age, but are also based on interactive intelligence and negotiation with animals. Our goal is to understand how animals involve their subjectivities into working activities according to individuals, species, and working conditions.
The project is under the umbrella of social sciences, especially sociology but also anthropology, psychology of work and philosophy. However, we will also find support from eco-ethology and agronomy. This is why the project is built upon multi-partnerships even though sociology is its backbone.

The methods that we set up are those of the social sciences (interviews, questionnaires, observations, analysis with or without computing help). Also, small and medium-sized firms will be incorporated into our study in order to bring actual work experience to our research.
The output of our research will be scientific, economic and social. They will contribute to the understanding of the human/animal relationship by introducing the working issue as a new angle in our scientific papers and books. It will help the sustainability of companies who work with animals, specifically in animal husbandry as well as in organic farming, by producing tools to transform their practices.

Because communication about research is embedded in research itself, we set up partnerships to publish our work and conduct round table discussions about our findings. Agricultural education is one focus; another is the willingness to broadcast to a large audience.

*Drawings from Blandine Pesme

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