Tag Archives: Animal Rights

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Factionalism in Animal Rights

The following essay was featured in Critical Mass: Newsletter of the Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements, American Sociological Association 42 (2): 4-6.

As a long time vegan, I often use the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as a case study in my collective behavior research. My identity as an activist-scholar means that I am often in a position of bearing witness to the frustrations of activists who are often not aware that the barriers they face in mobilization efforts are actually rather ubiquitous to collective behavior. Many activists bemoan the heavy divisions that have emerged within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement specifically as it has developed and transformed over recent decades (Wrenn 2016). In the 1970s and 1980s, the movement has been divided between factions that advocate direct action and structural change (such as the infamous Animal Liberation Front) and those who advocate institutional reform (such as the Humane Society of the United States). More recently, conflicts have emerged over aims to either reform or abolish Nonhuman Animal use. Rather than seeing these divisions as healthy growing pains, they are most often viewed as a serious liability. Indeed, many movement leaders point specifically to factionalism as a primary reason for limited movement success.

Factionalism is not unique to advocacy on behalf of other animals. In fact, factionalism and the manifestation of radical offshoots tend to be characteristic of social movements. As a social movement organization increases in size and becomes more dependent upon member contributions (and thus more reliant on appealing to a larger constituency), organizational goals tend to dilute. This professionalization process encourages the manifestation of more radical splinter groups (Koopmans 1994, Wrenn 2016, Zald and Garner 1987).

Factionalism is also facilitated when resources are more plentiful (Soule and King 2008). This often happens when a movement professionalizes, as professionalization entails a specialization in attracting contributions. This is certainly the case with welfare-oriented moderate organizations in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (Pendegrast 2011). As groups amass resource wealth, resource-hungry factions sprout up intent on implementing their own approaches.

Zald and Garner (1987) have also suggested that factionalism is more likely to manifest when a movement is especially hostile to authority and when short-term goal attainment is less likely. Achieving Nonhuman Animal liberation is certainly a long-term goal, meaning that schism is likely to form across generations and different demographic groups. This movement could also be categorized as potentially “hostile” to authority as it challenges entrenched power and systems of oppression. Indeed, Nonhuman Animal rights activists have been targeted as a leading domestic terrorist threat in the United States. While this is understandably discouraging to anti-speciesists, other social movements have shared similar experiences. Social movements of all kinds often share predictable patterns of growth and professionalization that facilitate radical factionalism. Unbeknownst to many activists, this is rather typical movement behavior.

The normalcy of factionalism has been established by social movement researchers, but whether or not it is detrimental to goal attainment is still under debate. Many social movement theorists and advocates argue that infighting among factions damages public credibility (Benford 1993), diverts resources (Benford 1993, Miller 1999), leaves the movement vulnerable to countermovement attack (Jasper and Poulsen 1993), or even leads to its demise (Gamson 1990). Others, however, argue that factionalism can work to the benefit of the movement. This can be accomplished when factions draw attention to the cause with radical tactics and claimsmaking (Haines 1984). Movement infighting can work positively to penetrate across multiple class and cultural boundaries (Benford 1993, Gerlach 1999, Reger 2002), minimize overall failures, and increase solidarity for specific groups (Benford 1993). It can also fuel positive competition and motivate participation and inspire tactical innovation (Gerlach 1999). Factions also act as a mechanism for managing conflict, and thus promote continued collective action (Reger 2002). In short, factionalism increases movement adaptability.

Factionalism forces a movement to engage in critical reflection. Radical factions in particular function to create an ideal towards which the movement might aspire. Radical advocates in favor of abolishing (rather than reforming) Nonhuman Animal use serve this purpose by imagining a critical vegan utopia where species inequality and exploitation are rejected (Wrenn 2011). The vegan abolitionist faction offers an alternative vision, motivates participation, and promotes a fundamental paradigm shift that is integral to reaching the goal of Nonhuman Animal liberation. Factionalism does not necessarily push a movement into decline (Rochford 1989), and a movement that survives factionalism can emerge stronger and more focused.

Moderates in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement often promote dominant welfare-oriented organizations as necessary for member recruitment. However, it is more often the case that a moderate stance is maintained to attract and maintain highly impersonalized public membership and external monies from conservative funding sources (McCarthy and Zald 1973, McCarthy and Zald 1977). As an organization becomes mainstream it often becomes decreasingly committed to social change and more focused on organizational survival. These large organizations can become less interested in attracting new activists and more concerned with attracting paying members who will have no obligation to participate beyond financial donations. When organizational framing exchanges emphasis on social change for an emphasis on advertising, the important role played by radical factions becomes much clearer (Schwartz 2002).

Activists in my field regularly plead for the various factions to overcome their differences and to work together. Whether animal lover or animal user, vegan or meat-eater, moderate or radical, we’re all supposed to be on the same page if we care about the well-being of other animals. Generally, it has been my observation that the ones making these pleas for cooperation in the movement are those who identify with the professionalized regulationist organizations that dominate the Nonhuman Animal rights space. From this perspective, factionalism might be denounced as part of a strategy to encourage radicals to forgo their critical, utopian stance and retreat back into the more profitable moderate approach.

Factionalism is known to drain resources, but its presence is integral. The dominant regulationist paradigm in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has failed to seriously reduce the reification and exploitation of nonhumans, and radical activists make this point central to their claimsmaking. As the movement professionalizes and large regulationist charities increasingly compromise goals and tactics, the role of radical abolitionism becomes critical in offering an alternative vision, motivating activism, and advocating a necessary vegan paradigm shift. It is my hope that the stigma surrounding factionalism might be reduced in the service of more effective social justice advocacy and social movement research. At the very least, increased awareness to factional patterns could alleviate the stress felt by radicals who are disproportionately burdened, ostracized, and sanctioned by a movement’s displeasure with factional tension.

 

References

Benford, R. 1993. “Frame Disputes within the Nuclear Disarmament Movement.” Social Forces 71 (3): 667-701.

Gamson, W. 1990. The Strategy of Social Protest. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Gerlach, L. 1999. “The Structure of Social Movements: Environmental Activism and Its Opponents.” Pp. 85-98 in Waves of Protest: Social Movements since the Sixties, edited by J. Freeman and V. Johnson. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Haines, H. 1984. “Black Radicalization and the Funding of Civil Rights: 1957-1970.” Social Problems 32 (1): 31-43.

Jasper, J. and J. Poulsen. 1993. “Fighting Back: Vulnerabilities, Blunders, and Countermobilization by the Targets in Three Animal Rights Campaigns.” Sociological Forum 8 (4): 639-657.

Koopmans, R. 1993. “The Dynamics of Protest Waves: West Germany, 1965-1989.” American Sociological Review 58: 637-658.

Pendegrast, N. 2011. “Veganism, Organisational Considerations and Animal Advocacy Campaigns.Humanities Graduate Research Conference. Perth, Australia.

McCarthy, J. and M. Zald. 1973. The Trend of Social Movements in America: Professionalization and Resource Mobilization. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

McCarthy, J. and M. Zald. 1977. “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 82 (6): 1212-1241.

Miller, F. 1999. “The End of the SDS and the Emergence of Weatherman: Demise through Success.” Pp. 303-324, in Waves of Protest: Social Movements since the Sixties, edited by J. Freeman and V. Johnson. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Reger, J. 2002. “More than One Feminism: Organizational Structure and the Construction of Collective Identity.” Pp. 171-184, in Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State, edited by D. Meyer, N. Whittier, and B. Robnett. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Rochford, E., Jr. 1989. “Factionalism, Group Defection, and Schism in the Hare Krishna Movement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 28 (2): 162-179.

Schwartz, M. 2002. “Factions and the Continuity of Political Challengers.” Pp. 157-170, in Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State, edited by D. Meyer, N. Whittier, and B. Robnett. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Soule, S. and B. King. 2008. “Competition and Resource Partitioning in Three Social Movement Industries.” American Journal of Sociology 113 (6): 1568-1610.

Wrenn, C. L. 2016. Professionalization, Factionalism, and Social Movement Success:  A Case Study on Nonhuman Animal Rights Mobilization (Doctoral dissertation). Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.

Wrenn, C. L.  2011. “Resisting the Globalization of Speciesism:  Vegan Abolitionism as a Site for Consumer-Based Social Change.”  Journal for Critical Animal Studies 9(3):  9-27.

Zald, M. and R. Garner. 1987. “Social Movement Organizations: Growth, Decay, and Change.” Pp. 121-141, in Social Movements in an Organizational Society: Collected Essays, edited by M. Zald and J. McCarthy. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Inc.

 

 

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Animal Abolitionism, a 19th Century Holdover

The desire to totally liberate other animals from human oppression is generally thought a product of late 20th century imagining. In today’s capitalistic  movement, activists and organizations scramble to specialize and copyright their particular brand of activism, often to the effect of invisibilizing a rich activist history.

In researching for my new book on factional debate in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I noticed that, while the abolitionist faction seems to have developed as a distinct collective in the 21st century following the energizing work of the late philosopher and activist Tom Regan, the very arguments that distinguish it were developed much earlier in the 19th century.

The abolitionist approach to Nonhuman Animal rights probably originates from its appropriation of tactics and rhetoric associated with the antislavery movement. Early vegetarian reformers were deeply involved in anti-slavery efforts, even positioning vegetarianism as a means of ending slavery. In fact, the term “abolitionist” itself is usually traced to this hugely influential movement. Like other movements against oppression, the anti-slavery cause was divided over whether or not to advocate for complete abolition or abolition-oriented gradual reforms.

Anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison considered many anti-cruelty and vegetarian activists as colleagues, and abolitionist papers reported on vegetarian events. These early reformers also supported women’s suffrage, and explicitly encouraged women to speak at vegetarian conferences. Vegetarian suffragettes also made the connection that ending animals’ oppression was the key to ending women’s oppression.

Although born of an intersectional past, abolitionism would gradually detach as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement gained momentum. For anti-speciesists of the late 19th century onward, abolitionism referred almost exclusively to nonhumans. Regardless, the belief that the oppression of Nonhuman Animals should be abolished rather than modified or reformed is a concept that is as old as is the movement. Heated debates between welfarists and abolitionists in the early years of the SPCA in England and the AHA in America are recorded in meeting notes. Frances Power Cobbe and other antivivisectionists, enraged by reformist legislation that effectively legitimized and protected vivisectors, explicitly identified as abolitionist. Even Donald Watson and the early vegans were abolitionist, regularly lambasting welfare reforms in early issues of The Vegan.

Today’s abolitionism as was developed by Regan, then, is merely one wave of many. It is a shame that Post-Regan abolitionism has completely diverged from its early connection to anti-racism and anti-sexism, but it is heartening to rediscover this legacy of compassion and refusal to compromise.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the politics of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals

masculinity-and-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


brutal

Brian Luke’s 2007 book, Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals, explores the gendered nature of our relationship to other animals. Humans, he argues, are not naturally inclined to be violent towards other animals, but men’s attempt to rival women’s life-giving capabilities has fostered this behavior. The idea is that men can increase their social status through animal sacrifice. Sacrificial institutions (such as hunting, flesh production, or vivisection), he argues, position men as the primary generators of human life. While women generate life directly and positively (childbirth and nursing), men are the counter. Men tend to generate life indirectly and negatively via death and violence.

Luke rightly points out that most exploitation is perpetuated by men (though male violence is often supported by women as well), while the liberation movement is dominated by women. However, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement tends to take a gender neutral approach, a curious mistake given these explicit gender dynamics. Luke also recognizes the general rejection of feminine approaches to Nonhuman Animal rights. Emotion is devalued and male-centric theory is favored instead to combat the negative feminine stereotype associated with Nonhuman Animal rights activism.

While Luke’s book is an indispensable companion to Carol Adams’ work, his critique of vegan outreach remains troubling. Speciesism, he explains, is a structural issue, and veganism is too individualistic. Exploitative industries not only supply the demand, but they create the demand. Luke explains that veganism is too focused on “salvaging one’s personal virtue” instead of working for institutional change. We need to explore advertising, countermovement propaganda, and cultural traditions. He suggests direct action, which would include purchasing Nonhuman Animals from exploitative situations and homing them in sanctuaries, destroying exploitative equipment, and blocking transportation services.

Of course speciesism is structural, but veganism is not inherently inconsistent with institutional change. Veganism is not simply a matter of personal purity, but rather a political statement that challenges taken-for-granted paradigms. For those working to end sexism, for instance, should they focus only on structurally-oriented direct action and not promote feminism to the public and movement participants? Would it not be integral to movement goals to insist that activists and the public abstain from rape or domestic violence?

 

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about gender politics and their consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 8, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Political Economy of Animal Rights

political-economy-animal-rights

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Bob Torres.  2006.  Making a Killing:  The Political Economy of Animal Rights.  Oakland, CA:  AK Press.

making-a-killingRemember Vegan Freak Radio?  Today’s vegan research is a publication by VFR host, Bob Torres. Torres takes a sociological, anti-capitalist approach to problematize speciesism.  The first part of the book situates Nonhuman Animal exploitation in the Marxian critique of capitalism, that is, the labor of other animals is exploited and their bodies commoditized.

The real value in the piece is his placement of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement within capitalism.  Advocacy groups become rather cozy with exploitative industries as they professionalize. As a result, they begin to craft reforms and abandon liberatory goals. This is a relationship that is mutually beneficial for non-profits and industries, but does nothing for Nonhuman Animals.

Torres calls this the animal rights industrial complex and argues that activists cannot “buy the revolution.” That is, activists cannot simply “vote” vegan with their dollars, buying vegan products or donating to large charities, and expect to create the structural shift needed to eradicate the root of oppression.

For that matter, Torres challenges the ideological control these large organizations have over “common sense” advocacy. Rather than determining if strategies are beneficial to Nonhuman Animals, the movement tends to judge their utility based on their ability to fundraise. Successful fundraising keeps organizations in business, but it is not likely to liberate, as it requires a substantial compromising of our values and goals. Torres takes an anarchist approach, insisting that an egalitarian social structure which does not delegate rule to a few privileged elites will be essential to achieving true liberation.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 28, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Significance of Animal Suffering

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Elizabeth DeCoux.  2009.  “Speaking for the Modern Prometheus:  The Significance of Animal Suffering to the Abolition Movement.”  Animal Law 16 (1):  9-64.

This Article reviews the theories and methods of Abolitionists and Welfarists and suggests one reason that they have failed to relieve animal suffering and death: Welfarists use the right tool in the service of the wrong goal; Abolitionists work toward the right goal but expressly decline to use the right tool. Specifically, Welfarists accurately portray the appalling conditions in which animals live and die, but they inaccurately claim that welfare measures can remedy those appalling conditions without any challenge to the property status of animals. Abolitionists correctly assert that the exploitation of animals must end, and they depict the astonishing rate at which animals are killed and eaten, but they typically spare their audience the unpleasant subject of animal suffering. The thesis of this Article is that the tide of animal suffering and death will turn only when Abolitionists employ the tool used to achieve social change throughout the history of the United States: accurately depicting the suffering of the oppressed, in image and narrative.

DeCoux’s article critiques the Nonhuman Animal rights movement as a failure, with vegan numbers stagnated because of our stubborn refusal to engage images of suffering.  She outlines a rich history of human abolitionist work that utilized suffering, which is not only extremely interesting but offers a learning experience for abolitionists still at work today.

sad-puppy

I respond to this article in my own publication, where I charge that anti-reform activists do indeed rely quite heavily on images of suffering.  The issue is that images of suffering have long been used as fundraising tools, prompting many activists to engage reasoned argument with hopes of highlighting a vegan anti-speciesist solution.

Audiences have been primed by decades of “humane”-centered welfare discourse. This has groomed concerned viewers to react to intense emotions by supporting reform, or more specifically, by financially supporting the organizations that exploit images of suffering.

The concern is that most of this fundraising is actually invested into organizational infrastructure and further fundraising, not Nonhuman Animal liberation. Furthermore, reform does nothing to challenge the systemic issue of speciesism; it only increases public comfort with speciesism and improves the image of exploitative industries.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 11, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Why Feminist-Vegan Now?

woman-and-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Carol Adams.  2010.  “Why Feminist-Vegan Now?”  Feminism & Psychology 20 (3):  302-317.

In this essay, I offer a reflection on the publication of The Sexual Politics of Meat, introducing several of the main theoretical insights from the book, and examining whether and how they hold true twenty years after the book’s first publication. I examine the associations among notions of virility, masculinity, and meat eating, and explain the concept of the absent referent and how it functions in the institution of eating animals. I also explore why images have proliferated that show the animalization of women or the feminization and sexualization of farmed animals, and propose that these are recuperative responses attempting to reinstate ‘manhood’ and meat eating. I propose that resistance to the decentering of the human being often is expressed through what I call ‘retrograde humanism’. To conclude, I meditate on ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’ – what it means for women that the animal movement so often wants to disown their work, yet needs them to do that work.

I often assign this article to my students because it neatly condenses the main points of Carol Adams’ theory in a short and accessible piece.  The exploitation of other animals is highly gendered.  The feminist perspective understands all vulnerable groups that have been victimized by the white capitalist patriarchy as feminine.  What this means is that our society is structured according to “male” and “female” gender roles.  Within this binary, “male” dominates and controls and “female” is dominated and controlled.  That which is “female” is seen as a resource to men.

Not only women, but also Nonhuman Animals and the environment are feminizedin this way.  Adams argues that challenging patriarchy must go deeper than the human male/female dichotomy and also include other vulnerable groups that have been feminized.  Feminism only makes sense when it is interesctional, and this intersectional approach must include nonhumans as well as humans.Pinup drawing of a white woman straddling a polar bearskin carpet. She is in black lingerie

This image is a good example.  Notice how both the woman and the bear have been sexualized and presented as a resource.  They are both on objects on display for the male gaze and for male consumption.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about gender and the animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 10, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Women and the Animal Rights Movement

women-and-animal-rights

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Emily Gaarder.  2011.  Women and the Animal Rights Movement.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutger’s University Press.

Women comprise 80% of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, but very little research explores the experiences of this demographic.  Gaarder’s book discusses the long history of women in activism for other animals beginning with the Victorian anti-vivisection movement. Women’s pathways into activism often include support for moral shocks, childhood relationships with animals, personal experiences with violence, and activism with other social justice movements.  Feminine gender roles also prime women for Nonhuman Animal advocacy, as women have traditionally been seen as animal caretakers and women have been socialized to be more emotional, empathetic, and relational.  Gaarder reminds us that gender is a construction, not a biologically-based objective reality:  “That women dominate the animal rights movement need not be equated with the idea that women naturally feel a greater affinity or compassion for animals.  This distortion might suggest that women activists are simply following a biological calling, when in fact they make a conscious choice to become political and ethical activists (58-59).

women-and-the-animal-rights-movementThese narrow gender expectations have been problematic in women’s participation in the movement, generally allowing men more power and leadership in “front-line” activism (thought to be consistent with masculine gender roles) which garner more prestige and legitimacy.  Though most women’s activism was rooted in emotion, they also internalized the devaluation of feminine approaches and believed that intellectual arguments would be more effective in addressing the public.  That is, while emotion drew them to the cause, they mistakenly believe the same will not be true of others.

The organizational and emotional work lumped onto women can be especially overwhelming, requiring the support of family, friends, and other networks.  On the other hand, activism provided many women with increased self-esteem and self-efficacy:  “The animal rights movement offered a fulfilling way for women to effect change in the world, both personally and as part of a political community” (86).

However, the gendered nature of our movement can be very dangerous.  Because women are devalued in activist spaces as they are in general society, we are not surprised to find a high level of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and battering within Nonhuman Animal rights groups in addition to “sexist, racist, and homophobic reactions from people outside the movement” (105).  The tendency to exploit gender stereotypes about women’s sexuality in many tactics (like PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” campaigns) is also detrimental to the well being of women and the advancement of women’s rights.  Gaarder chastises the lack of accountability in activist spaces:  “A movement culture that excessively and uncritically embraces ‘movement unity’ fails to challenge overt or unconscious acts of male dominance and white privilege” (115).

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about gender and animal rights activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


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

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A Month of Vegan Research: Animals and Women

women-and-other-animals

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan.  1995.  Animals and Women:  Feminist Theoretical Explorations.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press.

This edited book encapsulates vegan feminist theory, arguing that all oppressions are interconnected and that we must challenge human-biased theorizing:  “[ . . . ] the male pattern of female subordination and degradation, which is nearly universal in human societies, is prototypical for many other forms of abuse [ . . . ]” (7).

animals-and-womenSeveral chapters stood out to me as especially interesting and relevant.  Dunayer’s chapter on speciesist and sexist language demonstrates the power of ideology in normalizing oppression.  Comniou’s chapter on free speech also speaks to the power of language (and that “freedom of speech” is a right typically only granted to privileged groups).  Birke’s chapter on science and rationality discusses the history of male ideologies and institutions in legitimizing oppression and marginalization.  Adams’ chapter on violence against animals and women is a difficult read, but highlights many disturbing linkages.  Chapters in Part Two were a little more humanities-focused, and not as relevant to my interest in effective animal advocacy.  However, I found Luke’s chapter on patriarchal constructions of animal rights especially illuminating, as was Kappeler’s extensions on male supremacy in science and knowledge production.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the importance of feminism, intersectionality, and efficacy research in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 26, 2013.

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Medicalizing Animal Rights: New Publication

Animal rights graphic of a fox, reads, "Fur is for animals not rich idiots"

What do you think? Are meat-eaters sick? Are animal abusers psychopaths? Do you think people who love some animals but eat other animals are morally schizophrenic?

There is an awful lot of ableist claimsmaking taking place in the American Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In my new article, published with the leading journal in disabilities studies, Disability & Society, I explored this issue quantitatively.

In addition to coding mainstream newspapers for comparison (as consistent with earlier studies, anti-speciesism activists were mostly portrayed negatively), I also coded 50 leading vegan and Nonhuman Animal rights blogs from across the spectrum.

Overall, about one fourth of the blogs in the study were using ableism enough to be coded as ableist or very ableist. The most frequently surfacing words among nonvegan newspapers were “crazy,” “problem” (in the context of, say, ‘this activist has a problem’), “loony,” “nuts,” “different” and “freak.”

And activists? A greater variety of disability stereotypes were used in addition to “crazy” and “different,” such as “dumb,” “depressed,” “insane,” “psycho,” “sad,” capable of “violence,” and “schizophrenic.”

It turned out that food blogs and non-profit blogs were less likely to frame speciesism as a symptom of mental illness, but theory-based blogs not associated with any organization were the real sites of ableist rabble-rousing. In fact, Gary Francione’sAbolitionist Approach blog was the outlier in the study, averaging more than one ableist term for each essay included in the sample (in total, 319 hits were attributed to this blog, mostly the term “schizophrenic”).

The problem is that using disability as a pejorative in a social movement framework to villainize or shame the audience into accepting the movement’s claim actually banks on social inequality as a point of resonance. This should be problematic for any social movement that has egalitarianism as an end goal.

Cartoon that shows a cross-eyed woman speaking gibberish to a kitten who she gives excess attention to while also disregarding other species she kills for food

Although Vegan Sidekick was not included in the study, the memes it produces are excellent examples of the disability framework used to frame speciesism.

Unfortunately, the study has some limits. Some words like “problem” and “violent,” that were included as disability stereotypes (I used list of terms used by disability researchers in another study) can muddy interpretation, as speciesism necessarily entails violence and any social movement is likely to frame its target as having a “problem.” Coders were instructed to mark these terms as present only when a person or humans were specifically targeted, rather than abstract ideas (“Meat-eaters engage in violence” would be flagged, for instance, while, “Speciesism entails violence” would not). Some disability pejoratives like “stupid” or “idiotic” were not included, though these words are highly likely to have surfaced. Finally, I used VeganFeed to select the blog sample, as it provided a good variety of blog types. Unfortunately, it excluded some prominent non-profit organizations such as PETA. Additional studies could expand on these findings.

The first 50 visitors can download a copy free of charge by clicking here. Otherwise, you may access the research by visiting my Academia.edu profile.

 


Abstract:

Nonhuman Animal rights activists are sometimes dismissed as ‘crazy’ or irrational by countermovements seeking to protect status quo social structures. Social movements themselves often utilize disability narratives in their claims-making as well. In this article, we argue that Nonhuman Animal exploitation and Nonhuman Animal rights activism are sometimes medicalized in frame disputes. The contestation over mental ability ultimately exploits humans with disabilities. The medicalization of Nonhuman Animal rights activism diminishes activists’ social justice claims, but the movement’s medicalization of Nonhuman Animal use unfairly otherizes its target population and treats disability identity as a pejorative. Utilizing a content analysis of major newspapers and anti-speciesist activist blogs published between 2009 and 2013, it is argued that disability has been incorporated into the tactical repertoires of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and countermovements, becoming a site of frame contestation. The findings could have implications for a number of other social movements that also negatively utilize disability narratives.

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Professor Wrenn Interviewed by Feminist Magazine on KPFK radio 90.7 FM

Feminist Magazine

In an interview hosted by Cherise Charleswell and Valecia Phillips, I will be discussing my forthcoming book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory, as well as how veganism and the Nonhuman Animal rights movement falls into the scope of a feminist framework. Specifically I unpack the relevance of speciesism to feminism, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s problems with sexism and racism, and the corrupting effect that capitalism has on social justice efforts.

Feminist Magazine on KPFK is the weekly Southern California radio show of news, views, politics and culture with an intersectional feminist perspective.

You can access the stream by clicking here or pressing play below.

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