Critical Animal Studies Conference on Brock campus


Most programs available at Brock can be found at other universities, but one program that is unique to Brock University is their Critical Animal Studies concentration in the Sociology program. Brock has several professors who are passionate about animal rights and how non-human animals are participants in our anthropocentric society. One of these professors, Dr. John Sorenson, decided to form a conference dealing with issues of animal rescue and sanctuary, among other things.

The conference, called “Thinking About Animals,” is one of several activities Sorenson has put together surrounding the topic of animals. Brock first began offering critical animal studies courses over 20 years ago, and since then Sorenson has routinely held activities to invite the Brock community into the discussions.

“Thinking About Animals” was a two day conference held March 1 and 2 in Pond Inlet and Sankey Chamber. Both days were full schedules, featuring a number of speakers from universities across Canada and the United States, along with a variety of topics. Some were activists from companies such as Zoocheck Canada, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary and Go Vegan World, while other speakers were from places as far as Ireland and Japan.

One speaker at the event, Anita Krajnc, stirred up controversy during an incident last year when she was brought to court after giving water to pigs who were being transported to a slaughterhouse.

The conference was divided into panel discussions, Keynote Speaker sessions, and Concurrent sessions where multiple presentations were given at the same time. Individuals could choose which ones they wanted to attend. Topics ranged from animal oppression in a capitalist society, to meat and protein, to companionship, to animal language and discourse. For each discussion or session, experts on that specific topic presented. While Dr. Sorenson did not present on any of the specific topics, he did introduce and conclude the conference, and his colleague, Dr. Lauren Corman, also participated in a panel discussion on Thursday morning called “Animal Oppression and Capitalism.”

Hillary Flokstra, a second year Sociology student with a concentration in Critical Animal Studies, has enjoyed classes with both Dr. Sorenson and Dr. Corman.

“Both professors are very knowledgeable and passionate about the topic,” she says. “They have thoughtful insights into the ways that animals are treated, used, and oppressed in society, and I have learned so much about how animals’ deserve the right to express individual personhood, something that is taken away from them by our capitalist society.”

“I think it’s so great that events like this can happen to spread awareness about the issue. A lot of people don’t realize how poorly animals are treated as pets or in the factory farming process,” said Flokstra. “It’s really important that the public has a chance to become educated about these issues if we ever want to make progress towards a more equitable relationship between humans and animals.”

The conference was free to attend, and people were able to fit sessions in around their schedule.

The conference also celebrated the release of two new books on the topic of critical animal studies. Dr. David Nibert, from Wittenberg University in Ohio, was a panelist at the conference. He and several others, who also attended, recently edited Animal Oppression and Capitalism, and were able to discuss the topic in detail during the panel dedicated to the issue.

Critical Animal Studies: Towards Trans-species Social Justice was co-edited by Sorenson and Dr. Atsuko Matsuoka from York University. It includes contributions from Brock graduates Kimberly Costello and Ian Purdy, and focuses on linking activism with academics in order to break down the societal structures which exploit and oppress animals. Contributions come from a wide range of backgrounds, including historical archaeology, political science, psychology, geography, law, and  social work.

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