Thursday, 5 July 2012

Minding Animals Two - Day One

This post is coming from Utrecht in the Netherlands where I am attending the Minding Animals international human-animal studies conference.

The conference opened with a reception at University Hall in the centre of Utrecht. In breathtaking Gothic surrounds I caught up with human-animal studies scholars from around the world.

The opening night also featured a paper by Nobel Prize winning author John Coetzee. Coetzee read from an unpublished work featuring interactions between his fictional character, the animal loving Elizabeth Costello, and her frustrated son. The story was moving and the perfect opening to a conference dedicated to animals.

The first full day opened with a number of keynotes. The most disappointing of which was by the Dutch Minister for Agriculture. The most exciting was by professor of history Harriet Ritvo.

One of the unfortunate things about the conference so far is that the voices of women have been very difficult to hear. A quick look through the program reveals that of the 16 keynote addresses, 12 will be delivered by men and only 4 will be delivered by women. This is particularly disappointing given the amount of unpaid work performed by women, for animals. Because of the gendered nature of the conference it was therefore wonderful to finally hear Harriet Ritvo give her opening keynote. She was the first women permitted to speak at the conference.

After morning tea I attended the political philosophy stream. There I heard a fantastic paper by an Australian PhD candidate from the Australian National University (ANU). Alexandra McEwan is reading animal welfare laws through the lens of human laws designed to protect individuals against violence. Her interpretation was really new and I look forward to seeing her completed PhD.

After lunch I returned to the politics stream and heard a number of exciting papers, including one by a (soon to be) PhD candidate interested in political representation of animals in parliaments. Anne Marie Matarrese is trying to understand how animals might be given a political voice in an applied sense. Her work is very exciting and I look forward to hearing more as she progresses.

In the afternoon I attended a reception to celebrate 20 years of the journal Society and Animals. Society and Animals was one of the first journals to provide a publication location for human-animal studies scholars and it is wonderful to see it going strong after all these years.

In the late afternoon I hear my friend Robert McKay from the University of Sheffield talk about animal rights message in the movie The Misfits - who knew???? That was followed by dinner and drinks along one of Utrecht’s' many canals.

It was a wonderful start to a fantastic conference and I look forward to seeing what day two will have to offer!

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