A CLAN for Human-Animal Studies? Opportunities and challenges of establishing the field in Portugal – Part 2

Por: Verónica Policarpo

**A versão portuguesa dos 3 posts pode ser consultada aqui.

For the last four years, the Human-Animal Studies Hub (hereafter, HAS-Hub) has brought together scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds and institutions, under a common interest: the critical appraisal of the multiple and systemic ways through which humans have exploited nonhuman animals, and an ethical commitment to contribute to diminish their suffering. In this post, I resume the reflection initiated here about this process. In the first part, I leaned over the rising strengths of international networks and collaborations, as well as the angular role of funding to foster research, training and dissemination. In this second part, I wish to highlight – and honour – the power of connecting and working in our mother tongue. Building a HAS network that speaks, not only but also, in Portuguese is a major mission of the HAS-Hub. I will try to show the role of post-graduate education in this process, in particular the post-graduate course Animais e Sociedade. This reflection will not end today, though. In a future third and last part, I will highlight what are, from my point of view, the major threats that the HAS-Hub faces in the near future, as well as emerging opportunities.

Lusophone and national networks: a Hub for the Portuguese-Speaking World

One of the strengths of the HAS-Hub proposal to the ASI prize may as well have been its aim of connecting the Lusophone world of animal scholars. This meant connecting with colleagues from Portugal, but also from Brazil and the Lusophone diaspora. The proposal also aimed at building a “home” where all of us could feel connected and supported, breaking the isolation that often haunts those working at the margins of traditional academia, beyond the boundaries of rigid disciplines. In this sense, the Hub was a pioneer in fostering HAS in Portuguese. In some cases, scholars have already been working in the field for years. In other cases, they joined to develop a new research topic, namely as students and young scholars.

To describe how these potent connections began to unfold for us, let me invite you first to enter with me another time zone. This time we fly back to Lisbon, in 2017.

A biologist invites a sociologist to talk about grief and mourning for animal companions

Back in October 2017, I was in Dublin when I received an email from a colleague biologist, inviting me to talk at a seminar he was organising about the process of grief and mourning for companion animals. I had submitted the application for projects CLAN and Liminal Becomings a while ago, and had been reflecting about the impact of loss and grief over the death of animals – companions and others, such as animals living in nature. Ricardo R. Santos, an animal advocate for long, was then working about Bioethics and grief, and collaborating with the Núcleo de Estudos do Luto do Hospital de Santa Maria. Because elective affinities do exist, we would of course become close friends, and major allies in our efforts to establish the field in Portugal. The seminar took place in March 2018 and was the beginning of a long-term partnership. It also highlights a key feature of the Hub’s work: interdisciplinarity.

A Conference in Portuguese

Later that year, with a colleague from the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Lisbon, we organised the first big conference on Human-Animal Studies in Portugal, Animais Companheiros nas Vidas dos Humanos.

Figure 1: Poster of the Conference Animais Companheiros nas Vidas dos Humanos.

This conference was very important to signal the existence of scholars, practitioners and advocates working in the field, with and for animals. The topic of human-animal companionship had already been under study in Portugal for long, more or less invisibly. For instance, Teresa L. Monteiro had presented a seminar at ICS’ LIFE research group in 2016 on human-dog encounters and how they interplay with family life, and had coordinated, back in 2007, what was, to my knowledge, the first (if not the only) academic survey on Portuguese people’s perceptions about animal rights. As the conference program shows, the thematic panels, and mostly the open call presentations, included an array of senior and junior colleagues already working on the topic of human-animal relations. The themes ranged from how animals are represented and categorized in the media, legal or historical texts; to how animals live in the city and territory; or animals in families and social work.

Thus, this conference also signaled the possibility of a Portuguese-speaking community around the development of the HAS field itself. It was certainly a milestone in the life of the Hub, and key to the establishment of potent connections amongst like-minded people. It paved the way to new research and teaching partnerships, as well as to launch new research topics, and to consolidate existing ones, such as – loss, grief and mourning for animals, the place of companion animals in personal communities, in urban dwellings, or in chronic illness. We wrote about how this conference holds a special place in the constitution of the field in a thematic issue of the journal Análise Social.

All of this is critically linked to the creation of a post-graduate course on Human-Animal Studies.

Figure 2: Akira, Goya and Ana at the beach. Photograph by Ana’s father. Project CLAN Archive.

A Post-Graduate course on Animais & Sociedade

The first of its kind in delivering HAS scholarship in Portuguese, this course plays a key role in building and consolidating the field not only in Portugal, but also in Brazil and other Portuguese speaking countries. The first edition took off in September 2020, in a pandemic atmosphere that pushed all classes to the online environment. Although we all experienced this initially as a constraint, it eventually contributed to the opening of the course to a larger geographical scope, namely students from Brazil, and lecturers based in Brazil, USA, Cape Verde or Belgium. The course is set as bi-annual and has now just ended its second edition (2022-24). It is interdisciplinary in its contents, academic background of the lecturers, and professional backgrounds of students. Social workers, psychologists, biologists, ethologists, medical doctors, veterinarian doctors, anthropologists, sociologists… the scope is as wide as their genuine interest in the “animal question”. Likewise, the final essays cover a wide range of topics: the intersectional situation of animals and women; animal rescue and animal shelters; the place of animals in children’s development; assisting animals and children in foster care; the intersections between gender and food animals; and many more. We look forward to discovering how these reflections, triggered by the course, may unfold in the future in vaster research or practice–led projects.

Having dwelled into the role of funding, international networks and Portuguese-speaking capacity building, I do not have enough space in this post to fulfill the promise of reflecting about the risks and opportunities that we face in the near future. I will address them in a third and final post, where I will also recollect at least some of the animals involved with us in the process. More to follow, in Part 3.

Figure 3: Oscar. Photograph by Henrique Tereno. Project CLAN Archive.

Verónica Policarpo is a human-animal studies scholar, with a background in communication studies and sociology. She coordinates the Human-Animal Studies Hub, at ICS-ULisboa, where she leads project CLAN, the post-graduate course Animais e Sociedade, and the International Summer School in Human-Animal Studies. From May 2023 on, Verónica will be leading the ERC Consolidator grant project ABIDE – Animal Abidings: recovering from disasters in more-than-human communities.


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