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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.
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.