A CLAN for Human-Animal Studies? Opportunities and challenges of establishing the field – Part 3 

By: Verónica Policarpo

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

This is the last post of a series of three in which I proposed myself to reflect upon the main opportunities and challenges implied in the establishment of the field of Human-Animal Studies (HAS) in Portugal, and the role of the HAS-Hub in that process. In the first part, I recollected the strengths of international networks and funding. In the second part, I dived into the powers of connecting in our own mother tongue. Finally, in this third and last post, I will shortly discuss the major threats that, from my point of view, the HAS-Hub may face in the near future, as well as the emerging opportunities.

Systemic weaknesses and threats: money, resources, discouragement 

While the road walked so far seems hopeful and thriving, it is nevertheless hindered by the permanent shadow of precariousness that overlies Portuguese academia, affecting even more those working at the margins. To begin with, to keep all this smoothly running takes a lot of invisible work, which is seriously under threat due to the lack of permanent funding, namely to cover costs with logistics and support of regular tasks, ongoing activities (seminars, reading group, courses) or special events (conferences, workshops). Lack of funding also affects the quality and quantity of research, as human resources depend exclusively on projects, both in the form of fellowships and fixed-term employment contracts. This means that we are always very few, doing a lot, out of good will. Our schedules are usually overloaded. And we are often on the verge of burnout. We struggle to always do a bit more, go a bit further, as animals are out there in need. However, such lack of resources slows us down. 

Time is also a key variable in the sense that we need to wait for the younger generation to finish their training. The first PhD thesis in HAS developed in Portugal will be finished in a couple of years. Until then, we need to prepare ourselves to help this young generation to cope with the scarcity of opportunities, in academia more broadly, and within HAS in particular, low wages, and precarious working conditions. We will need to hold the space for all of us facing the dilemma of “getting a job that pays the bills” and still “be in this for the animals”.

Most importantly, we will need to continue to support each other against the discouragement, or even burnout, that often affects those working in the field, and/or closely with the animals and their precarious lives. Facing daily the dreadful situation in which the vast majority of animals in this world live is not for the faint of heart. Discouragement often pays a visit, and when that happens, we need to be there for each other. Only then can we be there for the animals. We need to develop a pedagogy of fierce compassion – a term used by Linda Tallberg and others to describe an activist approach to “ courageously witnessing, inquiring with empathy and prompting positive action”. 

Inspiring opportunities and research agendas 

If anything, this also means that new rising strengths lie beneath our weaknesses. The most important of which is the intangible, invaluable, asset of the dedicated love for the animals that brings together scholars in this field. Being guided by “something higher than ourselves” takes away the unnecessary burdens and complications of the personality, and keeps us going when times get tough. 

Highly motivated researchers who are “in this for the animals” are thus key to the consolidation of the field. This applies first-hand to all those preparing their doctoral degrees. The link to post-graduate education and training is thus also critical. For instance, Henrique, a former researcher at the CLAN project, is now writing his thesis on how children perceive and categorize animals, through their joint practices. Or Clara, a former student of the first edition of the Post-Graduate Course Animais & Sociedade, later a researcher, designer and illustrator of CLAN and now doing her PhD about more-than-human design practice for interspecies cohabitation. 

To this adds the contribution of visiting researchers, doctoral and post-doctoral, who bring their own funding, adding to, and expanding, the Hub’s research agenda with their expertise and enthusiasm. The three researchers currently visiting the Hub, during the academic year of 2022-23, are walking exciting new paths: Letícia Fantinel, researching the organizational practices involving non-humans in organizations; Maria Saari, working within environmental education, climate change and multispecies sustainability; and Janice Trajano, approaching the way droughts are shaping human-animal relationships. 

Another key factor is the connection to advocacy. This means collaborating with animal NGOs, protection movements, institutions and practitioners working in the field. For instance, CLAN project’s partnership with the Change for Animals Foundation to organise a workshop on animal welfare; or the HAS-Hub protocol with Grupo Lobo. In the future, this may mean expanding to other Portuguese speaking countries, with development projects, species-focused, such as the ongoing census of feral donkeys in Ilha da Boavista, Cabo Verde. 

Where are the animals?

I will conclude by saying that HAS is definitely a field where there is so much to be done, due to the massive amount of suffering with anthropogenic causes faced by nonhuman animals. This is undoubtedly a source of distress. However, it also means that we can still make a difference. Therefore, the field is also one in which, under the right conditions, we occasionally get to convert sorrows into opportunities for social change.

Fig. 1: Coco. Photo by Henrique Tereno.

In this, we work for the animals, but we also work with them, and share our lives with them. Animals are present in our fieldwork activities. All the dogs, cats, turtles, fishes, rabbits and birds that we met in Portuguese families, during the CLAN project. The street dogs of Faro island, with Teresa Monteiro. The Iberian lynx, with Filipa Soares and Andreia Grancho. The sheep raised for food, or cows in slaughterhouses, with Rui Pedro Fonseca. The wild, farmed or companion animals coping with landscapes devastated by wildfires, with myself, in my future ethnography for the ABIDE project. With all we learn. For all we strive. 

Animals are also present in our work as volunteers and advocates of the animal cause. These are the dogs met by Maria in one of Lisbon shelters. The turtles I met in Cape Verde, in Maio Island, back in 2021. Mursi, the kitten saved from the streets by Clara, and now a member of the multispecies family of our colleague at ICS, Jussara. Last, but not the least, animals inhabit our imagination, and give life to our creativity. These are all the animals captured by Henrique in his photography, Clara’s illustrations for the CLAN exhibition, or the fictional short story written by Becky Tipper, drawing on data from CLAN. Finally, animals also share our lives and space at home. Reiko with Henrique. Tofu and Xica with Clara. Sissi with Leticia. Mostarda and Coco with me. Alongside many others, past, present and future. A CLAN to remember and honour.

Fig. 2: Mostarda. Drawing by Clara Venâncio.

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.


Comentar / Leave a Reply

Preencha os seus detalhes abaixo ou clique num ícone para iniciar sessão:

Logótipo da WordPress.com

Está a comentar usando a sua conta WordPress.com Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Facebook photo

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Facebook Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Connecting to %s