Anne Marie Matarrese - The Political Representation of Animals: Giving Animals a Voice in Politics

In this article, Anne Marie Matarrese of the Department of Politics and International Relations describes her research exploring the political representation of animals.

About My Research

CASJ LogoMy research, supported by the Centre for Animals and Social Justice, investigates the ways animals are represented in politics today (through animal welfare laws or in constitutions, for instance) and understand how we can change things to ensure that animals are effectively protected and represented. The way animals are treated and the way politics responds to their needs is a pressing question for society as a whole and new answers are needed in order to address this question. It is a new and very exciting area of research and up till now only a handful of academics have looked at this possibility.

The starting point for my research is to look at what it actually means to be part of the democratic community and what it might mean for animals to be considered part of it. In other words, if democracy is said to be the rule of the people, for the people and by the people, who exactly do we define as ‘the people’? Debates have suggested that since animals, like the environment and future generations, are affected by the actions and choices of humans, they should be able to have their say and therefore be included within the political community.

One of the major problems, however is that despite the presence of pressure groups, animal welfare laws and growing public awareness on the importance of animal protection, animals are still very much marginalised and therefore subject to severe cases of abuse. So the question that I am seeking to answer is how can we ensure that the voice of animals is effectively heard within political decision-making?

Research Approach

One of the ways we can answer this question is by saying that animal protection must become a core goal for policy makers. For this to happen, animal protection must be integrated within existing institutional structures, through animal welfare departments within different ministries, for instance. However, this might not be enough and this is what my research is aiming to do: investigating new and innovative ways to ensure that the voice of animals is heard loud and clear in the policy process.

My research is also informed by the developments that have taken place in the debate concerning the representation of future generations. This is because future generations share some characteristics with animals: they cannot enter into dialogue in the same way as humans would, yet they are, or will be, deeply affected by the decisions we make today.

I am particularly interested in two possibilities: the constitutionalization of animal welfare and the institution of a High Commissioner for the interests of animals. The former would provide solid legal foundations for the protection of animals, whereas the latter would have the power of raising the profile of questions relating to the condition of animals and putting them on the political agenda.

Research Findings

Animals are part of those newly emerging constituencies, like the environment and future generations, whose claims are progressively being taken into consideration not only by academics, but also by civil society and politics.  The level of exploitation which animals are subjected to and the environmental problems posed by intensive meat production are further reasons why we should include their claims within the political dimension.

The political representation of animals is an innovative and ground-breaking research area which is only in its initial stages and there are many theoretical and practical challenges to respond to. The constitutionalization of animal welfare or the creation of specific institutions for their protection may only constitute pieces of a larger puzzle, but by identifying them and putting them in the right place, my hope is that we can make a real change in the lives of animals.

My hope is that this research will truly make an impact that will go beyond the boundaries of academia and will positively influence institutions and governments and their animal protection policies in the UK and beyond.

About Anne Marie Matarrese

Photo of Anne Marie MatarreseAnne Marie Matarrese is a research student working towards completion of her doctoral degree in the Department of Politics and International Relations.

Anne Marie is supervised by Professor Robert Garner.

Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Leicester
University Road

Anne Marie will present her work at the Festival of Postgraduate Research 27 June 2013 - see Anne Marie's Festival poster.

The Festival is open to all members of the University community and the public - book your place here.

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