This proposal is grounded in a multidisciplinary theoretical framework at the intersection of interest-group theory, animal ethics and communication ethics:
- Interest-group theory addresses the role of interest groups in the shaping of public policies and public opinion in democracies. In this context, the legitimacy of these actors in the distribution of power in society is a major topic of discussion and, actually, of controversy. What interest groups are is also a matter of disagreement. In this project we understand interest groups broadly as associations of “individuals or organizations or a public private institution that, on the basis of one or more shared concerns, attempts to influence public policy in its favor” (Thomas, 2004: 4). This may include any type of private or public (state-funded) lobby, advocacy group or think tank. Typically studied in political sciences departments, a number of communication departments have progressively incorporated them within the fields of public affairs and public relations because of the important role communication plays in interest groups’ strategies. In the communicative context, interest groups are mostly studied as generators of discourse.
Animal ethics is the subfield in moral and political philosophy which addresses the problem of what we owe to sentient nonhuman animals as agents with a well-being (and, therefore, interests) of their own. Traditionally, animal ethicists focused on showing how species-based discrimination is unjustified (Singer 1975) and how it was possible to argue for the equal consideration of animals from different normative perspectives, such as utilitarianism (e.g. Singer 2011 ), rights theories (e.g. Cochrane 2012), Kantism (e.g. Korsgaard 2018), virtue ethics (e.g. Hursthouse 2000) and care ethics (Donovan 2006). More recently, there has been a ‘political turn’ in this literature, with an increasing number of authors developing competing accounts of our political obligations to animals from a broadly liberal-egalitarian perspective (e.g. Cochrane 2018), including the birth of critical animal studies (Nocella et al, 2014), an application of animal ethics in fields like sociology or communication.
Communication ethics deals with the moral good present in any form of human communication. Critical public relations (CPR) is our main lens for this research. CPR draws on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and the need to challenging current assumptions, to alter boundaries to produce paradigm shifts and produce a critique of mainstream theories, policies and practices (L’Etang, 2005). CPR is essentially about power. As Motion and Weaver (2005) put it, “the task for the critical public relations scholar is to investigate how public relations practice uses particular discursive strategies to advance the hegemonic power of particular groups and to examine how these groups attempt to gain public consent to pursue their organizational mission” (p. 50). Likewise, Heath and Xifra stress that the aim of the field is to go beyond the simple criticism of public relations and to aspire “for a social critique that leads to human and social emancipation” (p. 200).