NEXT UP ON this.
It was a novel that turned Dr Kate Hall off meat. Fitting, as she’s now a creative writer and literary studies scholar at Deakin. The novel was called The Summer Riders, and Dr Hall was around 12 when she read it. It was about a girl called Jinny and her beloved chestnut Arab whom she’d rescued from the circus.
One morning Jinny was eating bacon and eggs when her family’s boarder wandered in. ‘Jinny, if you love animals so much,’ he said, ‘why are you eating them?’
‘The penny dropped,’ says Dr Hall. ‘And that was it. I told my mother that I was never eating meat again…and I never did.’
Dr Yamini Narayanan is a senior lecturer in International and Community Development. She credits social media with turning her attention to the plight of farmed animals. Farming spaces are usually gated, she says, so social media has been instrumental in highlighting what’s going on behind those gates.
Together, Dr Narayanan and Dr Hall convene the Deakin Critical Animals Studies Network (DCASN), an academic-activist space where researchers, students, artists, writers and activists can collaborate about how to tackle animal abuse.
So they’re well placed to help students who want to incorporate their passion for animal rights into their university life and future career.
There are many different ways to make a real difference in the lives of animals – and many different university courses and career pathways.
‘In fields like law,’ says Dr Hall, ‘you could choose subjects that…align themselves with the ethics of liberation.’ Through legislation, policy and education, you could work ‘to change society’s views about non-human animals and challenge speciesism.’
In the field of science, an ecologist might try to stop the culling of horses or kangaroos. Or a marine scientist might work to find a way to end commercial fishing.
And if art is your thing, you could create artwork that ‘shows the horrors of factory farming or which prompts people to think about the kinship we have with other animals.’
Dr Narayanan believes that animal studies can propel students into other spheres too, such as environmentalism or social justice.
She sees anthropocentrism as the root of many of the world’s problems. ‘We’re so used to looking at humans as the paramount focus,’ she says. Many of our current crises – climate change, environmental degradation, extinction, social and political injustice – could be ‘a result of this extremely narrow human-centric focus.’
Animal studies students develop a good understanding of how we contribute to these global issues. ‘They are the future environmentalists that will come up with the sort of radical rethinking that we all seem to agree that we need.’
'In fields like law, you could choose subjects that…align themselves with the ethics of liberation.'
Dr Kate Hall,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
If you like the sound of a career in animal rights, here are some tips to help you find your way:
Do your homework
Decide for yourself where you sit ethically. Animal welfare is very different to animal rights, says Dr Hall. So, if you want to turn your activism into a career, be sure to research potential employers.
Find your network
Attend protests, join research networks, use social media. These are the best ways to meet like-minded people. ‘As soon as you find your people then you can start helping other animals,’ says Dr Hall.
Look after yourself
Take a break. Animal rights research can lead you to some dark and depressing places. Dr Narayanan and Dr Hall have experienced this firsthand. So take occasional breaks from the assault of images and information.
Follow your heart
‘A tertiary education is an immensely valuable thing to have,’ says Dr Hall. ‘And the more qualified you are, the better placed you are to make a difference…in the world. So follow your heart and get educated.’
‘Students like social justice,’ says Dr Narayanan. So moving into social justice for animals is not such a big leap. ‘There’s a real excitement about it.’
She’s keen to harness this excitement with the development of a critical animals study program, and sees these studies as the new frontier.
‘(Today) we are aware that gender is an issue, that race is an issue,’ she says. ‘This awareness is considered normal…these politics, important.’ But imagine back to a time when racism was entrenched and normalised, and not something addressed. Imagine someone suggesting, ‘How about we do something with a racial focus?’ This suggestion would’ve been ‘really political and provocative.’
That’s where we’re at today with critical animal studies.
‘We haven’t yet learnt to address anthropocentrism,’ says Dr Narayanan. ‘It’s considered normal in human society, politics and scholarship worldwide. We take it for granted that we are exceptional. In fact, we don’t even think of humans as animals, most people wouldn’t.’
Putting anthropocentrism ‘fearlessly’ on the table would shake up many of our foundations, says Dr Narayanan. And for students who share this passion, it will create a brave new world of opportunity and possibility.
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