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Exploring the lives of animals

Exploring the lives of animals

How do we think about animals? Where do we put them, where do they belong? How do we interact with them? Are these human-animal relations good, bad, or otherwise? These are some of the questions that FES Dean and Professor Alice J. Hovorka has investigated through two SSHRC Insight Grants on The Lives of Animals in Botswana (2012-2016) and Animal Governance in Botswana and Canada (2016-2022).

“We are interested in how animals actively shape human lives, landscapes and development trajectories,” Prof. Hovorka explains. “Our objective is to explore the complex encounters between humans and animals within broader political, economic, social, cultural, spatial, environmental, and ethical contexts,” she adds.

Working with Professor Hovorka is a team of graduate students as part of the Lives of Animals Research Group at Queens and Guelph initially, and at York University successively. The species-based projects includes a range of domestic animals (chickens, donkeys, cattle, dogs, cats) to wild animals (elephants, wild dogs, lions, coyotes, monkeys) across diverse locales — homesteads, urban centres, rural villages, agricultural fields, industrial factories, national parks and sanctuaries in Botswana and Canada. Case studies highlight the circumstances and experiences of animals, as well as the broader structures and dynamics that shape their daily lives.

The research is interdisciplinary, bridging social sciences (e.g. geography, environmental studies, social theory) with natural sciences (e.g. animal welfare science, behavioural ecology, biology) to ensure holistic research results meaningful for both human and non-human animals. The research team collaborates with communities, scientists, practitioners, NGOs and governments with the aim of informing appropriate program and policy interventions that acknowledge, respect, and enhance the lives of animals. Ultimately, their goal is to understand the lives of animals – their circumstances and experiences, their welfare and rights – so as to achieve sustainable and just interspecies relations.

Professor Hovorka holds degrees in geography from Queen’s University (BA), Carleton University (MA) and Clark University (PhD). Her research broadly explores human-environment relationships and is theoretically informed by feminist, poststructuralist and post-humanist philosophical perspectives. Her fields of specialization include animal geographies, gender and environment, urban geography, Southern Africa, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Following her degree, Professor Hovorka started to work at the University of Guelph Department of Geography in 2003, and in 2015 joined the Department of Geography and School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University. She has published a series of articles in Progress in Human Geography on animal geographies (2016-2018) that explore how animals shape human society and the positionality of animals as influential actors and on other interesting articles on human animal studies. She has also consulted on urban issues for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and worked as an intern at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) mainstreaming gender within urban agriculture projects. Her scholarship has been recognized through a Humboldt Research Fellowship and the Jan Monk Distinguished Professorship.