Frames and Ambivalence in Context: An Analysis of Hands-On Experts’ Perception of the Welfare of Animals in Traveling Circuses in The Netherlands

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The results of an empirical study into the perceptions of “hands-on” experts concerning the welfare of (non-human) animals in traveling circuses in the Netherlands are presented. A qualitative approach, based on in-depth conversations with trainers/performers, former trainers/performers, veterinarians, and an owner of an animal shelter, conveyed several patterns in the contextual construction of perceptions and the use of dissonance reduction strategies. Perceptions were analyzed with the help of the Symbolic Convergence Theory and the model of the frame of reference, consisting of knowledge, convictions, values, norms, and interests. The study shows that the debate regarding animals in circuses in the Netherlands is centered on the level of welfare that is required; the importance of animal welfare is not disputed. Arguments that were used differed according to the respondents’ specific backgrounds and can be placed on a gradient ranging from the conviction that the welfare of animals in circuses is sufficiently warranted and both human and animal enjoy the performance (right end), to the conviction that animal welfare in circuses is negative, combined with the idea that the goal of entertaining people does not outweigh that (left end). The study confirms that perceptions reflect people’s contexts, though the variety in scopes suggests that the (inter)relations between people and their context are complex in nature. Evidence of cognitive dissonance was abundant. Coping strategies were found to be used more by respondents towards the right end of the gradient, suggesting that those respondents experience more ambivalence. This encountered pattern of association between position on the gradient and frequency of dissonance reduction strategies calls for further research on the type of ambivalent feelings experienced. The authors argue that, to come to an agreement about the welfare of animals in circuses, including the way this welfare should be guaranteed, stakeholders from different contexts need to engage in a dialogue in which a distance is taken from right/wrong-schemes and that starts from acceptance of dilemmas and ambiguity
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-535
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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