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Marie Leth-Espensen successfully defended her doctoral thesis

a woman in a white shirt speaking to a man
Doctor Marie Leth-Espensen responding to the external reviewer David Redmalm during the thesis defence.

On Friday, 9 June, Marie Leth-Espensen defended her thesis "Animals and the Politics of Suffering: Essays on Law, Care and Interspecies Relations," which explores the implications of various strategies addressing the suffering of farmed animals in Denmark.

A recurring theme in Leth-Espensen's research is the ideas that shape how we think about care for other animals. She emphasises overcoming human-centred perspectives to recognise different animals' ethical and political significance as world-making beings. How we refer to animals in language is one such aspect. Leth-Espensen favours calling animals "who" rather than "it" and writes about connections between humans and other animals as "more-than-human relationships."

The lion's share of the thesis consists of four scientific articles. The first article addresses the potential contribution of socio-legal research given the challenges of anthropocentrism in law. The article names the relationship between law, space and human-animal relations and highlights how previous research has brought attention to the wolves as lawmakers, given their movement and how they repopulate areas. Such research help to highlight nonhuman animals as agents instead of passive objects of regulation.

The second article is based on interviews with state veterinarians conducting animal welfare inspections of pigs on Danish farms. Leth-Espensen explores the implications of animal welfare legislation and how it establishes a threshold, meaning that particular kinds of suffering are permitted while other types are deemed unacceptable.

two people sitting down talking
The external reviewer, Senior Lecturer David Redmalm of Mälardalen University, researches relations between humans and other animals - from that between riders and their horses to the symbolism of the Chihuahua in pop culture.

The External Reviewer, David Redmalm of Mälardalen University, also discussed Leth-Espensen's third article, a study of New Carnivorism as presented in the Danish TV show "Kill Your Favourite Dish," aired in 2014. The show constructs meat eating as morally right when we respectfully kill the animal and turn it into a delicious meal. Redmalm noted one of the article’s findings, namely, how ethics and aesthetics are conflated in the show, and he further emphasised the underlying paradox as the animal – by necessity – is not there to enjoy the meal.

The final article is an ethnographic study of everyday experiences from two farmed animal sanctuaries in Denmark, exploring alternative animal care practices against the challenges the sanctuaries face because of the legal framework. Leth-Espensen suggests that sanctuaries face several challenges, such as keeping animals separated to keep them safe from harm and the difficult work that caring for animals bred for farming requires. Because these animals are produced for continuous growth, they suffer from various health conditions and eventually die prematurely.

After responding to questions from Redmalm and the examination committee, a pause followed while the examiners and reviewer deliberated. When they reemerged, Jannice Käll of the Sociology of Law Department announced that they "award Marie a doctorate degree in Sociology of Law, and the decision is unanimous. It is a brilliant thesis and this was not a hard decision to make."

Examining committee member Martina Angela Caretta, also of Lund University, added: "We all agree that we are looking forward to more of this. Congratulations on a great defence and a great thesis."

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