Academic Thesis Examines Social Phenomenon of Farm Occupations

Annie Bernatchez, “Animal Justice Citizen Activism and the Politics of Sight“ (PhD Thesis, School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, 2023).

Abstract: This thesis examines the social phenomenon of farm occupations enacted by Animal Justice Citizen Activists (AJCAs). Farm occupations are a strategy of civil disobedience that make visible the animal violence behind the scenes in the animal-industrial complex; they enact a politics of sight that receives substantial pushback. Informed by two bodies of literature, Critical Animal Studies and Social Movements Studies, the thesis focuses on the socio-political context and on the emotional dimension of undertaking a politics of sight. An analysis of the mainstream media and provincial governments representations of four Canadian farm occupations and the legislative response in two provinces where ag-gag laws have been passed reveals a general tendency of political suppression. That is, representations of farm occupations tend to deprecate the politics of sight and eschew its goal of achieving full visibility of animal violence on farms. Moreover, while investigating the politics of sight with the analytical lens of critical substantivism, where farm occupations are seen as an ethico-political practice, further perils become visible, including the silencing of the practice of giving voice to animals, but also the societal disposition towards misunderstanding and being indifferent to the suffering of animals on farms. In addition to these structural challenges of making visible what is hidden in plain sight, the analysis of in-depth interviews with 15 AJCAs across Canada reveals an idiosyncratic, yet collective, form of emotionality manageable through reflexivity, when activists are confronted with and bear witness to the reality of animal violence in their efforts to enact a politics of sight. […] This thesis provides a critical reflection on the structural and emotional dynamics of performing a politics of sight in the context of Animal Justice activism.