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Does size really matter? Attitudes towards animals in urban Hong Kong

As a study of society, sociology has long viewed society as consisting primarily of humans, with our core concern being studying human social behaviour. However, our society is arguably not exclusively human: many aspects of our lives – including consumption, leisure, language, the use of space – are infused with other non-human animals.

In order to examine this issue in greater detail, Dr Benoit Guénard (who specialises in biodiversity & biogeography, urban ecology and insect ecology) and both of us are embarking on a one-year ‘knowledge exchange’ project on people’s attitude and knowledge about animals in urban Hong Kong. This interdisciplinary project will involve two sociologists plus an ecologist – and all huge fans of animals from a young age – working together to rethink our understandings of human identity. This dialogue between biology and sociology will also generate additional insights for understanding human behaviour, the lives of non-human animals, and human-animal interactions within wider natural, social and political contexts.

Since September 2016, we have been conducting a series of public and private talks, workshops and out-of-classroom activities including:

Focus group interview with animal concern groups

On 24 September 2016, we organized a focus group interview with representatives from a wide array of animal concern groups in Hong Kong, including the Boar Concern Group, Lantau Buffalos Group, Dolphins Family, Scottish Fold Sickness Concern Group, Citizens for animals, HK Dolphins Conservation Society, Animal Earth and Non-Profit Making Veterinary Services Society Limited.

Animal rights issue has long been a largely ignored issue in Hong Kong. However, there are actually people paying a lot of effort to help animals. When we believe that we as human beings should love and respect each other, (how) can we extend our love and respect to other non-human animals?

Group of students with teachers attending animals sociology course at HKU

Jane Goodall’s public lecture in HKU

In collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute HK, Faculty of Social Sciences’ Policy for Sustainability Lab, the HKU Common Core curriculum and National Geographic, we have invited Dr Jane Goodall (a worldwide renowned ethologist/conservationist and the United Nations’ Messenger of Peace) to give an exclusive public talk titled “Reasons For Hope” on 11 November, 2016 at HKU Loke Yew Hall. Everyone found her lecture very meaningful and fruitful.

Jane Goodall delivering public lecture at HKU

Dr Jane Goodall delivering public lecture at HKU

loke-yew-hall-public-lecture

Loke Yew Hall

Before the talk, Jane Goodall and her team were invited to join a private chat session with experts from our Interdisciplinary Knowledge Exchange Project Team as well as those from the School of Biological Sciences. Their intellectual exchange offers people new insights towards the issue of human-animal relationship and environmental conservation in Hong Kong and worldwide.

Dr Jane Goodall in conversation with HKU professors

Dr Jane Goodall in conversation with HKU professors

Interactive workshops with primary and secondary school students

On the 19th November, 2016 (Saturday), we have organized our first interactive workshop with the French International School. 20 smart and enthusiastic students were invited to come and explore their diverse yet hidden relationships with other animals biologically, geographically and socio-culturally in urban society like Hong Kong.

Students participated in our thematic “Animal GO!” game rethinking about their classifications of animals. An exclusive tour at the Biological Science Museum at the HKU Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building was held, where these curious participants could actually have a closeup view to observe and explore the diversity of animals.

'Animal Go!' game designed for school students

‘Animal Go!’ game designed for school students

Interactive workshop with French International School

Interactive workshop with French International School

Yet the most exciting part was their fieldtrip in Lung Fu Shan located right next to the HKU Centennial Campus. They were all having a good time with our beloved nature.

French International School students take part in HKU field trip to Lung Fu Shan

French International School students take part in HKU field trip to Lung Fu Shan

Students were encouraged to discover the unaware beauty of insignificant animals and insects by appreciating their macrophotography—they are so small when compared to humans, yet they are also vital to our nature.
After the fieldtrip, students came back to campus and participated in the Sociology Discussion Session. We have played various videos related to animal rights and animal ethics. Students are encouraged to express their opinion and discuss with others about their attitude towards the issues raised.

Spider macrophotography

Spider macrophotography

In addition, we will be running a new Common Core course ‘Some We Love, Some We Eat: Human-Animal Relationships in the Global Marketplace’ in the second semester, which will equip students with skills for discussing these issues. Anyone who are interested in what we have done so far are more than welcome to join our future activities!

Animals are always around us, even though we may not always be aware of them. We hope that, through organizing this knowledge exchange project, young people can be more aware of issues related to animals, and critically rethink about their attitude towards and multi-faceted relationships with them.

This article was co-authored with Dr Tommy Tse.