The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics’ Summer School looks to educate people on the importance of animal issues.
Intersectionality, the commodification of corpses, and the moral poverty of pescetarianism were just three of the talks on offer at the Oxford School of Animal Ethics third summer school this year.
The school brought together over 150 academics, students, and people working with animal issues from around the world to engender some truly innovative academic discussions around the moral question of how we treat animals destined for the table.
The school was arranged by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in partnership with French animal society One Voice, the leading French animal rights organisation. The Summer School was the third in the series: the 2014 Summer School was on Religion and Animal Protection, and 2015 was on the Ethics of Using Animals in Research. This year the topic was Eating Animals.
The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is run by Professor Andrew Linzey. His daughter Clair is deputy director for the centre, and director of the Annual Oxford Animal Ethics Summer Schools.
According to Clair: “We are only a small organisation but we have a big goal of helping people think differently about animals. Lots of the people you see here have attended all three of the conferences so far-I think that is at least in part to Andrew [Prof. Linzey]. He’s one of the best at what he does.”
Clair is no slouch herself when it comes to academia. With a string of prizes to her name, from her time as an undergraduate to now, she is a prominent figure in her field. She says: “This year the topic – eating animals – was really popular. We’ve been really lucky in the range of submissions, with some very interesting speakers.
“For those attending the school, we are always really welcoming. Often when you go to a conference you are the only animal academic there, which can be more difficult. Here, people all care about the animal issues.”
Despite the astonishing academic credentials of the school, the talks have been carefully curated to ensure they are accessible to all, as well packed full of current thinking and information. The range of speakers, and their academic backgrounds, is truly remarkable. Professors in theology, economics, and philosophy all posed fascinating questions, addressing animal issues from their respective field’s perspective.
Drury University Professor Patricia McEachern presented: Institutionalised cruelty as standard industry practice in animal agriculture in the United States. During the talk she covered some fascinating topics, highlighting how her academic study ties into practice, and campaigning for animal rights.
She said: “Eating animals relies on institutionalised cruelty and terror – and yet we are encouraged to consume these sentient creatures. Pigs see natural light twice in their lives – when they are sent to finishing farms to be fattened up, and when they are sent to slaughter. If pigs don’t want to go throw the death shoot, which they often obviously don’t, they are beaten. When interviewed, one slaughterhouse worker said: ‘I have beaten 11 pigs to death in one day. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging’.”
She also discussed the American ‘ag gag’ laws, saying: “Activists, journalists, and others can be convicted of violating laws simply by documenting cruelty. Institutionalised cruelty depends on secrecy.” Fortunately these laws have been deemed as unconstitutional in some places, including Idaho State, but her talk showed how far animal rights campaigners still have to go. She concluded: “We don’t need to improve or reform the way we raise livestock animals; we need to abolish it.”
Another notable speaker was Professor Kurt Remele, from the University of Graz, in Austria. He presented a talk entitled: There is something fishy about eating fish, even on Fridays. He spoke passionately about the emotional lives of fishes, and how classic Catholic doctrine has excluded them from being defined by meat, by avoiding meat on Fridays, but not fish. He said: “I prefer the term ‘fishes’ to ‘fish’. It recognises these are individuals with personalities and feelings.” He went on to talk about the sex lives of fish (‘they do it in more ways than Casanova’) highlighting an area of animal behaviour that is often overlooked in favour of creatures seen as more sentient.
The wide array of topics and speakers means the summer school was a fascinating an accessible event, as well as being open, friendly, and welcoming. Anyone with an interest in animal issues would have more than enough to sink their teeth into. The director must be applauded for making academic thought so accessible.
The summer school is not the only project run by the centre to bring animal topics into mainstream thinking: alongside these events, the centre works with publisher Palgrave Macmillan to produce a series of books focusing on animal ethics. Authors are invited to send proposals to director Professor Andrew Linzi. The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series include titles like The Moral Equality of Humans and Animals and Political Animals and Animal Politics.
Summer school director Clair says:” We are all about working to try and bring animal issues to the forefront, to make people think differently about animals, by putting them on the academic agenda.”
To find out more visit oxfordanimalethics.com/home.
Oxford Centre For Animal Excellence
- is the first in the world dedicated to pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication;
- is an independent ‘think tank’ for the advancement of progressive thought about animals;
- aims to put animals on the intellectual agenda;
- consists of an international fellowship of academics drawn from both the humanities and the sciences dedicated to pioneering ethical perspectives;
- contributes to thoughtful public debate about animals;
- strives to become a world-class centre of academic excellence, and
- is proud of its academic independence. The Centre is an independent educational company for the purpose of “adult and other education”. It is not under the aegis, control, or sanction of the University of Oxford. The Centre is affiliated with the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society.