Papers at IAMCR July 2023
We are excited to announce the latest updates from the COMPASS project, showcased at the IAMCR 2023 online OCP23 conference. Two teams have presented results, and each of them have shared a paper on the ongoing research.
In the Environment, Science and Risk Communication working group, Laura Fernández, Núria Almiron and Miquel Rodrigo-Alsina have presented their work titled “ Manufacturing authenticity in science. A critical discourse analysis of how public relations negotiates compassion in animal experimentation”.
Whether animal experimentation is crucial for the progress of science or a barrier to it is a disputed issue. What it is undisputed, either by proponents and by opponents of animal experimentation, is the various psychological and physical harms, including death, that are inflicted on nonhuman animals in laboratories. Because of the increasing social concern and compassionate response by society towards animal suffering, the experimentation community has joined the compassion and care narrative towards nonhuman animals.
In this paper we examine how the animal experimentation industry negotiates compassion through strategic communication in public relations. To this end, we have studied the discourse of the largest Spanish lobby defending animal experimentation in Spain: SECAL (Sociedad Española para las Ciencias del Animal de Laboratorio, or the Spanish Society for the Laboratory Animal Science).
Our main goal was to examine how SECAL’s narrative negotiates compassion – that is, to what extent the lobby’s messages regarding animal suffering in laboratories are authentic or manufactured. By authentic we mean whether it honestly addresses the suffering of the animals involved in experiments. By manufactured we mean whether the narrative pretends to engage and encourage compassion but it is not doing so in reality or even doing the opposite, blocking the natural compassion that emerges amongst the public.
Whitin the theoretical framework of critical animal studies, critical public relations, and critical discourse analysis, our research studied a sample of 82 texts from SECAL’s website (www.secal.es), including all relevant texts available and 30 editorials from the lobby’s scientific journal. After a brainstorming amongst experts and a pilot test, we end up with a template of analysis that differentiated three levels of discourse, that representing: nonhuman animals used in laboratories, the animal experimentation industry, and society as a beneficiary of the experimentation. For each group we analyzed the explicit (literal) and implicit (implied) arguments used to represent each of them with a particular emphasis on how compassion is negotiated (encouraged, discouraged; with an authentic or manufactured narrative). The template also included a specific cross-analysis with androcentrism, speciesism and capitalism. For the three levels of analysis, we identified nomination strategies (how the actors were represented in terms of who they are), predication strategies (how the actors were represented in terms of what they do) and argumentation strategies (whether beliefs or opinions were being justified).
Results show that SECAL is not negotiating compassion with authenticity but rather manufacturing it, that is, conveniently framing itself as concerned about animal suffering while at the same time discouraging the cultivation of compassion amongst the public, including the use of non-inclusive and sexist language, the reproduction of the inaccurate human/animal binary that presents humans as superior, and the commodification of animals as mere capitalist resources.
Ultimately, our examination pretends to illuminate how strategic communication is used in science to address the contradiction between the public opinion’s positive attitudes toward animals and a human practice that consistently harm them and, therefore, needs to be discursively framed as appropriate to be accepted.
Presented in The Ethics of Persuasion session under the Ethics of Society & Ethics of Communication working group (ETH), Olatz Aranceta-Reboredo and Núria Almiron have shared their work titled ““We Care”: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Spanish Zoo, Aquarium and Animal Theme Parks’ Lobbying Ethics”.
The use of animals in captive environments such as zoos, aquariums, and animal parks –here referred to as the animal-based entertainment industry– is a contentious issue. This industry argues they contribute to science, education, and biodiversity protection. However, independent case studies have pointed to the fact that the public relations of industries exploiting animals shape discourses and may contribute to cancelling the public’s natural compassion towards captive animals. Despite this, the impact of these industries’ strategic communication on the public’s compassion continues to be an under-researched topic which needs further attention to understand how lobbies attempt to shape public consent. This paper aims to fill this gap by critically examining the discourse of the three top interest groups in this business in Spain: AIZA (Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums), Fundación Parques Reunidos, and Loro Parque Fundación. The analysis draws upon online sources on the organization’s websites and utilizes thematic and linguistic analysis techniques from the perspectives of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and frame theory. This methodology was used to identify frames, with attention paid to the negotiation of compassion, and to analyze them with a critical discourse approach. Results reveal a discourse overall characterized by representations of nonhuman animals as commodities, gene pools, and tools for education and entertainment. Moreover, the interests of the captive individuals are represented as outweighed by the ecological interests of species protection, in spite of the three lobbies campaigning as protectors of non-human animals. In addition, ideologies such as androcentrism, speciesism, and neoliberalism have also been identified in the discourse. We conclude that the discursive strategies of the top Spanish lobbies of the animal-based entertainment industry instrumentalize the public’s compassion to justify the exploitation of nonhumans while commodifying the latter under the disguise of care and animal welfare.