Theoretical background to the pedagogy proposed for animal welfare education



The scientific literature testifies to various points of resistance to the implementation of animal welfare education in animal husbandry, even though the concept has been the subject of didactic transposition in agricultural education reference frameworks since 2008 (Vidal and Simonneaux, 2013, Lipp and Simonneaux, 2014). As confirmed by the European Union strategy for animal protection and welfare 2012-2015, farmers are not aware of alternative production practices and often create resistance themselves to change that could improve animal welfare. The reasons for this are manifold and can be seen in particular in relation to the actual curricula implemented by animal welfare teachers and the curricula learnt by farmers or future farmers. Among the latter, loyalty and acquired habits with regards to parenting practices and conformity to the dominant practices and ideologies of the professional world take precedence over ethical values and are psychological and cultural obstacles to the consideration of animal welfare in animal husbandry (Vidal and Simonneaux, 2015).

In order to promote its teaching, we therefore invite you to consider animal welfare as a socially, scientifically and ethically live issue. As with any socially acute question (Legardez & Simonneaux, 2006), animal welfare is indeed the subject of controversy both in the scientific world with regards to reference knowledge and practices, and in the social world where it is the subject of media coverage, with scientists more or less explicitly advancing their ethical position, depending on their sensitivity and their difficulty in grasping a new concept, whereas some of them had hitherto promoted animal production (Bourdon, 2003).

From a scientific point of view, the number of criteria that attempt to make animal welfare an objective and scientific concept only reflects the difficulty of advancing a unitary theory. Chapouthier (2010) proposes to consider animal welfare through the limitation of suffering and pain, Grandin and Johnson (2009) through emotions. Mellor and Stafford (2009) introduce the concept of quality of life, Broom (2011) that of coping (2011). Nordenfelt invites us to rely on the animal's natural behaviour (2011), while Dawkins (2004) proposes to question the animal about its choices and preferences.
Certain criteria lead to thinking about short-term and long-term well-being, while others lead to thinking about long-term well-being. Some consider the animal's external state of health and behaviour, others favour intracorporeal factors (such as the degree of activation of the endocrine system). Some focus on the species, others on the individual. Duncan (2005) therefore considers it impossible to give a precise definition of animal welfare. The choice of evaluation criterion is not neutral and strong disagreement is evident in the discussions at symposia and in research papers based on the following questions: (1) Are emotions and sensations more relevant criteria than behaviour? (2) Can we pass judgment on emotions that, in nature, allow the animal to survive, such as fear? (3) Can one define for the animal what its long-term welfare should be, when it may be antagonistic to short-term welfare? (4) What is the reference life context chosen? Is it the natural context when it is itself a source of pain and suffering? (5) Does the animal have a conscience and what is it? (6) What criteria can be taken into account in production contexts?


Animal welfare is also an ethical issue. We can distinguish several ethics that are the subject of social debates: the abolitionist ethic, of which Tom Regan (2004) is the emblematic figure across the Atlantic, rejects the very idea of animal breeding and demands that all use of animals be stopped. The deontologist ethic, while calling for a right with regards to the animal, considers that this right must be reflected upon and applied in contexts involving the use of animals. Welfarist utilitarian ethics invite us to calculate all the pleasures of sentient beings and to retain only those collective choices that maximize them (Singer, 2003). The care ethic, an affectivist ethic, insists on the vulnerability and dependence of the animal (Laugier, 2012), whereas the ethics of giving and counter-giving (Porcher, 2011), although also promoting a relationship between man and animal based on affection, considers work with the animal through an exchange and as such is less about vulnerability than about the reciprocal responsibility of the animal and the breeder. Finally, utilitarian naturalistic ethics questions the whole process of domination over nature in general and the animal in particular, which emerged during the Neolithic period and that led to our separation from our own nature. Shepard (1997), one of the proponents of this ethic, invites us to rebuild a link with ourselves through an animal that will enrich our own inner life and our biological life because our primary relationship with animals is an interaction in terms of utility and symbolism. The domesticated animal, however, is for him only the degraded shadow of the animal that prevents us from developing our maturity, but rather leads us to an infantile regression, and this since the Neolithic period. Given the diversity of ethics in social debates, the hierarchical, utilitarian, zoocentric and pathocentric relationship alone cannot be representative of ethical theories of animal welfare (Schmidt, 2011). Teaching must debate the whole range of animal ethics.

It is therefore through a dialogue between ethics and science that animal welfare must be considered. This dialogue has a twofold interest: on the one hand, ethical questioning can thus be based on the knowledge acquired on animal welfare to justify (or not) making animals moral patients. On the other hand, each theory of animal ethics can be understood as a theory of welfare in the broadest sense and must be able to provide normative criteria for scientific results. In other words, such a dialogue places animal welfare within Post-Normal Science (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 2003), as it makes animal welfare a complex issue because it is uncertain, value-laden, and may have a plurality of legitimate perspectives.

One dimension that usually is missing when tackling animal welfare is the question of production animals vs. wild animals. This question is pretty much discussed when speaking about ethical eating, eating meat or not eating meat, killing animals or not killing. Most plant-only-eaters either don’t remember or refuse to realize that also plant production has a huge impact on animal well-being or ill-being. Using chemical, industrial scale methods of farming destroys all bird nests on the field, crushes young hares, kills bees, butterflies and other pollinators etc. So, when measuring and estimating the total amount of animal well-being vs. ill-being, wild fauna shouldn’t be forgotten.

Promote a didactic approach that favours the emancipation of the learner


The didactic approach that we consider desirable to promote, invites us to go beyond conformity to favour not THE response but different possible responses to professional activities that are full of contradictions, the expression of which is multiple and closely dependent on the individual. In democratic schools in which teachers encourage their students to express their opinions through important school or class issues related to curriculum, learning methods, and social relations, students develop autonomous moral judgment and non-conformist critical thinking (Weinstock, Assor, & Broide, 2009). By creating a culture of ethical judgment in professional situations that involve animal welfare, we can hope to enable students to learn to learn in the sense that Bateson (1995) suggests, i.e., to develop a trans-situational habit. Such an approach is, in our opinion, the most likely to bring together intuition, feeling, reason and value. It is through "debate" with peers AND with the animal that we believe we can build what we call critical intuition and affective-ethical reasoning. We believe it is necessary to go beyond scientific literacy alone, and we also call for ethical literacy, through knowledge of one's own values and the complexity of one's ethics in a situation; a dialogue between reason and intuition. The advocates of socially acute questions (Legardez and Simonneaux, 2011) are part of an emancipatory approach to the person, with the aim of freeing the person from situations of dependence that hinder his or her cognitive, ethical and emotional development. Emancipating oneself is then part of the understanding of what ethical complexity is at the level of both the individual and society, the axiological tensions that animate them, in order to enable the person to make his or her own ethical choices in conscience. It is therefore an emancipation from societal influences and a capacity for integrity that is desired.

This is the challenge facing the ERASMUS project, "Anicare”. That of developing a didactic approach for teachers and agricultural advisers in order to promote the teaching of animal welfare aimed at the emancipation of breeders or future breeders and based on a Ricoeurian ethic. The conceptual learning framework chosen is part of a socio-constructivist epistemology, valuing exchanges between peers with regard to explicit professional activities in which the animal's "point of view" is integrated. It is based on the principles of the didactics of socially vivid questions (Legardez & Simonneaux, op.cit.) while valuing the approaches of professional didactics and the analysis of professional situations (Pastré, Mayen & Vergnaud, 2006).

Relying on a variety of professional activities contextualized and explained by the breeder and the animal.


The expression of empathetic behaviours and the mobilization of knowledge about the animal and its welfare are intimately associated with the situation in which the person finds himself. Habermas (1999) argues that moral judgments should be derived from contextualized questions to avoid the risk of obtaining only demotivated answers with a practical deficit. Zeidler & Sadler (2008) promote the development of contextualized moral reasoning. We consider that entry through contextualised professional practices can lead people, who do not necessarily wish to enter into a discussion on the general issue of animal welfare, to engage in hetero-examination and thus self-examination.

Professional didactics, insofar as it invests the real practices of a professional and the knowledge, objectives, ethics and affectivity linked to his practices, encourages learning based on the analysis of an action. It focuses more on activity than on knowledge. In other words, it allows for on-the-job training to be linked to the activities of professionals. It is less interested in the cognitive image that would lead to describing an animal by listing its main properties, rather than the operative image that would describe the same animal with regard to the properties that are useful or necessary to take into account for the action that one wants to take in relation to the animal, an image that guides and organises the activity (Ochanine, 1981). In this sense, a work situation is individual in the sense that the meaning given by an individual is his own, and therefore different from one individual to another, but also shared, because individuals of the same community agree relatively well on the meaning to be given to such and such a situation, such and such a practice, such and such a word (Pastré, Mayen & Vergnaud, 2006).

Encountering a variety of situations is therefore essential in training. It is the means for the learner to become aware of the new properties of a concept, and of the relationships between concepts and situations in the same professional field (Pastré, Mayen and Vergnaud, ibid). Considering that the activity is both productive and constructive because it leads the professional to question his knowledge, his practice, and even his ethics, it is necessary to observe in several situations the subject acting as much as the subject knowing because "any operative model is articulated with an explicit, even scientific, or implicit and informal cognitive model" (Pastré, Mayen, Vergnaud, ibid, p. 150). In other words, observing professional activities presupposes relying on the reasoning and intuition in action of professionals in order to make them interpretable. But when a person acts, if s/he is aware of the world in which he is acting, he is not necessarily aware of his activity in order to regulate the action. His/her consciousness can be notably focused on the relationship with the animal without being conscious of what is at stake for him/her which leads him/her to choose a mode of action, the knowledge he mobilizes for the action, the affects he feels, the objectives he/she wants to reach. It is therefore a matter of moving the person from a pre-considered plan to an explicit, i.e. thoughtful, plan, to understand the precise steps that lead the person to carry out an activity, and generally to act, to bring to light tacit knowledge that is often difficult to formulate or identify. In this respect, simple or cross-confrontation, or explanatory interviews (Vermersch, 1994) are all interview techniques which make it possible to clarify the cognitive models at play in the activity, and to make explicit what may be implicit.

The choice of breeders to be interviewed and the practices to be made explicit is not insignificant. We can legitimately look for "good practices" and follow a dogmatic didactic approach. Rather, for the same professional situation, it is a question of observing the diversity of activities implemented with regard to the intelligibility of the action and of highlighting the possible controversies associated with the consideration of animal welfare that may emerge from differences in reasoning (for instance making more money by doing so, or expressing personal values).
In order for situations to be conducive to learning for affective-ethical rationality, we propose that they respond to issues of conflicting interests and desires, which are conditions for the formation of values (Dewey, 2011). The dilemmas involved in the act of production and the consideration of animal welfare lead farmers to make diverse choices, depending on the cultural, social, psychological and economic context in which they find themselves. Collecting the differences in practices at a European level can help to remove the learner's perception automatisms established by habit, to allow distance inspired by the principle of "strangeness" (Ginzburg, 2013) and to encourage reflexivity and a possible change in representations and practices.

To encourage constructive debate based on the observation of explicit professional situations.


The socio-constructivist approach based on the confrontation of points of view with explicit professional practices of livestock farmers must make it possible to compare informal, anecdotal and experiential knowledge with stabilized or controversial scientific knowledge, the affects, values and ethics at stake. In other words, it is a question of taking into account and creating a dialogue between the achievements of informal education in formal education. For Dasen (2004), this taking into account is the keystone of the cultural adaptation of an education system.

Such an approach presupposes that the learner accepts to be part of a cross-comprehension and to construct an ethically, affectively and pragmatically thoughtful representation of his or her professional choices. The aim is to enable them to construct their ethics within a normative framework, which presupposes knowledge of their own needs, i.e. as Honneth (2008) envisages it, to have the capacity to represent their life "as a narrative context emerging from these 'meta-desires' or ethical assessments" (p. 360). In other words, the learner is invited, through exchange and argumentation in relation to his peers, to become aware of and construct the emotional and ethical orientation he wishes to give to his professional life. An ethical sensitivity is likely to be built insofar as the person understands that other people may find themselves confronted with difficult decision-making situations.
The approach involves managing the tension between the scientific and ethical conflict that the debate entails and the care taken with regard to the other person and his or her vulnerability. It must allow for communicational action in the Habermasian sense by promoting a dialogue between the subjective sphere of truthfulness, which is based on the integrity of the learning subject, intersubjectivity, which presupposes mutual inter-comprehension, and the sphere of objectivity, which is based on the exchange of scientific knowledge. It is particularly in intersubjectivity that values and ethics will be expressed and are likely to be the subject of awareness. The inter-comprehension and empathy that it implies has two challenges: it allows the maintenance, or even the construction, of the self-esteem of the "empathised" and favours his or her reflexivity; it allows the "empathiser" to develop a conscious identity by placing himself or herself in the off-centre perspective of another as envisaged by Mead (2006).
The inter-comprehension and solidarity advanced in Habermasian communicative action (1999) makes it possible to respect the vulnerability of the participants. These principles are, in our opinion, likely to respond to the concern to preserve the learner's self-esteem. However, the latter is also, what might seem paradoxical, a social construct resulting from tense relationships with others (Lenoir, 2012). It is through conflict that a person can simultaneously develop an affirmation of a difference within a divided group, social integration and recognition of the other. That is why Lenoir (ibid.) proposes "a critical pedagogy of dialogue that recognizes the existence of social tensions, conflict, and oppositions, that apprehends these social tensions as a source of evolution towards understanding and acceptance of the other, and that poses the complexity of the relationship between the human subject and the community" (p. 213). An educational approach that invites discussion through conflict is therefore likely to respond to the construction of self-esteem.

The aims of a debate based on the observation of the professional practices of others and the behaviour of the animal in a situation are not intended to define a consensus between the participants. Rather, this should lead to the elaboration by each learner of an individual response in relation to their personal context, motivations, affects and ethics. Assessing the possibilities of a situation is a practical task that requires not only reason, but also imagination and emotion (Dewey, op.cit.). Imagination is here conceived as an ability to examine the existing reality, to form desires and interests adapted to this reality, to make ideals emerge by identifying desirable possibilities in the situation. The value of ideals is related to the experiences they make possible. The formation of values becomes a principle of creation, experiential and continuous, which amounts to being creative of ourselves. Imagination helps the person to construct responses in contexts that mobilize a priori contradictory values, and that involve dialogue (Morin, 2004) and creativity (Von Foerster, 2006).

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