Bullfighting And Social Change: A Case Study From Spain
The power that culture has over us when it comes to the way we see animals and ethics is tremendous. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a friend or relative justifying certain animal practices out of “tradition,” you know this all too well. One of the most common examples of this tension between culture and ethics is bullfighting in Spain. Many people consider bullfighting (and related festivals) to be “important markers and celebrations of ethnic/cultural identity.” But, increasingly, it is putting off younger generations. And there are some who believe that it should be left in the past so that Spanish culture can move forward and evolve.
The purpose of this study was to gauge people’s attitudes toward bullfighting as it relates to culture and animal welfare. And it aimed to understand how these attitudes might be related to socio-demographic information. The researchers used the city of Zaragoza as a model; the city has about half a million people. And the socio-demographic profile of the city represents Spain more broadly. In total, the researchers sent out over 2,500 surveys. Among the respondents, there was a fairly even split between men and women, and a close split between the different age groups they studies, with similar numbers of respondents in each category: 18–30, 31–45, 46–60, and over 60. More than 80% of the respondents were city dwellers; the rest were from rural areas. The survey included six sections: a section on demographics, a section on attitudes toward bullfights, a section on culture and identity, a section on socio-economics, and two sections on emotional perception and animal welfare.
The researchers found that 49% of respondents “do not like” bullfighting, versus 39% who do. Opinions differed more greatly among women and young people. Also, 58% said they do not watch bullfights on TV, while only 32% do. Live attendance polarized views even further: 77% said they do not attend them, while only 23% of people said that they do. Interestingly, the cultural importance of bullfighting was more evenly split: about 40% of respondents either agreed or disagreed that bullfighting should be part of Spanish cultural heritage. About 20% of people were indifferent. Meanwhile, 70% of respondents agreed that “cultures evolve and tend to show a higher level of respect for animals.” Despite this, 50% of respondents were against abolishing bullfighting, while only 35% supported a ban.
For animal advocates, the results show just how complex and contradictory people can be when it comes to clashes of culture and ethics. The researchers identified two extreme clusters of people for and against bullfighting. But they also note that the “indifferent cluster” is important. Future studies need to monitor this group. More than anything, the study supports the idea that people can hold opposing views simultaneously on animal issues. For animal advocates, this recognition is important: we don’t always agree with each other, and we don’t even always agree with ourselves. On issues of animal ethics and culture, we need to approach the public cautiously. And we need to pay heed to possible contradictions without demonizing them.