Monthly Archives: August 2016

Do You Know the Most Common Mistake in Animal Activism?

Effective Animal Advocacy

As a social scientist specializing in social movement theory as it applies to the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I am often dismayed that so many vegan activists consciously dismiss the importance of research in their commitment to prioritizing activism. This likely reflects a general conservative suspicion with science (an ironic attitude given that science is such an important ally to social justice), exacerbation over the critical plight of Nonhuman Animals, or even plain ol’ human stubbornness.

I argue that this “Activism First” skittishness of science constitutes a serious blunder. The liberation of Nonhuman Animals will not come willynilly, through good fortune, or even with dedication and hard work. Tactics must be supported with research and guided by science to ascertain their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the power, politics, and egos of social justice work frequently trump a genuine and necessary interest in what works, what doesn’t work, and what can be improved. As a researcher in this field who has studied extensively the science of social movements and the politics of anti-speciesism, my biggest piece of advice to vegan activists is to pause a moment and do some assessment.

I am certainly not making a case for elitism. Innovation in tactics should be fostered, and sometimes this will emerge from newcomers and the unstudied. However, it is a strategic failing when the majority of a movement’s activists have zero training in effective activism and few have bothered to read the scientific theory of social movements and social change. This is an enormous, unnecessary, and avoidable disadvantage.

To presume ourselves experts and leaders in social change without also adopting the role of student exemplifies human arrogance, entitlement, and privilege. Activists must be life-long students in order to be effective leaders. If Nonhuman Animals are counting on us, we are obligated to aspire to our best.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the science of effective activism and the importance of research in movement repertoires in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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The EU Ban on Cosmetic Testing and the Problem with Single-Issue Campaigns

EU Bans Testing

The European Union has banned the import and sale of cosmetics containing ingredients tested on animals. Good news? Well, sort of.

I am curious as to why the cosmetics–often made from the bodies, products, and labor of Nonhuman Animals–are not themselves questioned as morally objectionable. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is delighted by this “victory,” but the campaigning that led to this ban is rather disconnected. To me, campaigning to ban the import of tested ingredients on animal-based products would be no less counterproductive than promoting cheese-less “hamburgers” or “leather” coats without “fur” trim (I use quotation marks to highlight euphemistic language).

Most cosmetics are made with slaughterhouse renderings, meaning that they are inherently cruel and unjust. Focusing on animal testing is subsequently speciesist and confusing. Of course, bunnies are easy to rally behind because they are generally considered to be cute, but most humans still view cows, pigs, fish, and other Nonhuman Animals killed for cosmetics as commodities. In a human-privileging society, these animals are merely breathing slabs of “meat” and skin waiting to be processed. Single-issue campaigns reinforce this objectification and invisibility.

Lightning storm

Single-issue campaigns unnecessarily confuse the political imagination by skirting the root of the problem. If the root problem–speciesism–remains unaddressed, more horrible uses are free to sprout up to fill the void that EU legislation has created. I understand the allure of a low-hanging branch, but I suspect that this tactic is trading in symbols with no intention of serious economic disruption.

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is, like most social movements, strapped for resources. Every minute, every dollar, and every person expended on these piece-meal campaigns is a minute, dollar, and person squandered. I say this because it would be infinitely more efficient to promote comprehensive vegan education. Veganism covers all Nonhuman Animal use, not simply those that are convenient to organizers or more advantageous to non-profits with fundraising aspirations.

If Nonhuman Animal testing is reduced, that is obviously a good thing. However, vivisection comprises only a very small percentage of speciesist exploitation. The vast majority of this exploitation is tied into Nonhuman Animals being killed for food (laboratories kill in the millions, while slaughterhouses kill in the billions), so why expend so much of the movement’s resources on fringe exploitation?

Most importantly, it is this speciesist food system that supports other exploitative products and uses. By promoting veganism, the movement lessens demand for slaughterhouse products, and a political mass of vegans can put pressure on governments to eliminate subsidies to “meat” and “dairy.” Cosmetic companies will have to look elsewhere to find their raw material when animal flesh is no longer cheap and plentiful.

I care deeply about the plight of Nonhuman Animals, and I truly hope that this ban will put pressure on companies and other governments by demonstrating that consumers are not especially interested in supporting systems of violence. I also hope the ban will motivate consumers to extend their moral concern to the invisibilized billions of Nonhuman Animals killed for food and cosmetic ingredients. But hoping isn’t a valid justification for any tactic. I am not convinced that it is wise to compartmentalize speciesism when the movement could be building a strong vegan culture that rejects all use, not just some uses. Saving adorable rabbits should not mean throwing less popular species under the bus. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has an obligation to lend support to all animals.

 
A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on March 11, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems with single-issue campaigning in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

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Study Shows Objectified Women Less Likely to be Activists

PETA Naked Protest

 

A study published in Psychological Science finds that women who self-objectify are less likely to challenge the status quo of gender inequality. These findings could have serious implications for the Nonhuman Animal rights repertoire.

Anti-speciesism activism, in general, supports the notion that women are sexual objects that can be exploited for recruitment and fundraising.  Women (especially young, thin, white women) are repeatedly exposed to movement norms which expect them to take off their clothes and pose in sexually provocative ways “for the animals.” If these norms should begin to internalize and feed self-objectification for female activists, this could seriously disempower the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Young women comprise the movement’s largest demographic and should be nurtured rather than exploited to achieve effective social change.

Women who are objectified and consequently objectify themselves are less likely to affect liberation. As the research suggests, self-objectification is an important impediment to achieving social justice because “objects don’t object.” I have noticed that countermovement activity has attempted to frame vegans as weak, unpatriotic, weird, etc., but I have also noticed that vegan women have been eroticized. This is intentional: sexualizing others disempowers them. When women are reduced to sexual objects, this undercuts their political power and their ability to resonate. When they self-objectify in response to existing in a sexist cultural space, they are even further depoliticized. If the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is actively replicating this process, it could be doing the movement considerable damage (in addition to reinforcing sexism, an ethical problem in of itself).

Read more:

Rachel M. Calogero.  2013.  “Objects Don’t Object:  Evidence that Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism.”  Psychological Science 24(3): 312-8.

Abstract:

Integrating system-justification and objectification theories, the research reported here broadens the scope of prior work on women’s self-objectification to examine its system-justifying function. I investigated the relation of trait and state self-objectification to support for the gender status quo and engagement in gender-based social activism among U.S. college women. Study 1 established that greater trait self-objectification was related to more gender-specific system justification and less engagement in gender-based social activism. The data supported a mediational model in which gender-specific system justification mediated the link between trait self-objectification and social activism. Results from Study 2, in which self-objectification was situationally activated, confirmed the same mediational model. These findings suggest that trait and state self-objectification may be part of a wider pattern of system-justifying behavior that maintains gender inequality and thwarts women’s pursuit of social justice.

Read a summary from The Raw Story here.

 
This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on February 13, 2013.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the dangers of engaging sexism in Nonhuman Animal rights activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Review of “Our Children and Other Animals”

Our Children

My review of Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart’s sociological text on childhood studies and vegan theory is now available free to download from Volume 19 of Between the Species. This is an important contribution to the socialization processes involved in speciesism.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about vegan theory in my own publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

whyveganism.com

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