Animal Justice Citizen Activism and the Politics of Sight

Title: Animal Justice Citizen Activism and the Politics of Sight
Authors: Bernatchez, Annie
Date: 2023-03-15
Abstract: This thesis examines the social phenomenon of farm occupations enacted by Animal Justice Citizen Activists (AJCAs). Farm occupations are a strategy of civil disobedience that make visible the animal violence behind the scenes in the animal-industrial complex; they enact a politics of sight that receives substantial pushback. Informed by two bodies of literature, Critical Animal Studies and Social Movements Studies, the thesis focuses on the socio-political context and on the emotional dimension of undertaking a politics of sight. An analysis of the mainstream media and provincial governments representations of four Canadian farm occupations and the legislative response in two provinces where ag-gag laws have been passed reveals a general tendency of political suppression. That is, representations of farm occupations tend to deprecate the politics of sight and eschew its goal of achieving full visibility of animal violence on farms. Moreover, while investigating the politics of sight with the analytical lens of critical substantivism, where farm occupations are seen as an ethico-political practice, further perils become visible, including the silencing of the practice of giving voice to animals, but also the societal disposition towards misunderstanding and being indifferent to the suffering of animals on farms. In addition to these structural challenges of making visible what is hidden in plain sight, the analysis of in-depth interviews with 15 AJCAs across Canada reveals an idiosyncratic, yet collective, form of emotionality manageable through reflexivity, when activists are confronted with and bear witness to the reality of animal violence in their efforts to enact a politics of sight. Thus, the empirical fieldwork provides an original understanding of Animal Justice activism in Canada, enabling a pragmatic and evaluative understanding of the politics of sight and a dynamic understanding of sociological concepts. Conceptually, the thesis seeks to contribute to the development of key explanatory terms such as political suppression, moral shock, emotional habitus, and bearing witness. Although these concepts provided the analytical starting point, the fieldwork advances their understanding and proposes new strategies for future usage. First, mainstream media and provincial governments echo one another in suppressing a politics of sight, paradoxically referring to peaceful farm occupations as violence. Second, moral shock occurs when activists are immersed in animal violence, which is likely due to the limit of their emotional repertoire. In such conditions, emotional reflexivity is the mechanism that allows activist to sustain the performance of a politics of sight. Emotional reflexivity is thus a crucial component of moral shock and emotional habitus. Lastly, to understand the scope of a politics of sight, this research suggests that critical substantivism can be an essential evaluative tool to identify the tasks and perils of bearing witness against the horizon of political suppression and audience (non)response. This thesis, therefore, provides a critical reflection on the structural and emotional dynamics of performing a politics of sight in the context of Animal Justice activism.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -