Tag Archives: Tactics

Are Vegans too Open to Free-Riders?

In an interview with The Atlantic, I present the compelling findings from my publication, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism.” In a meta-analysis of over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles on vegan motivation and consumer persuasion, I find that the pragmatic “reducitarian” approach to veganism and animal liberation that is promoted by nonprofits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement lacks empirical support.

The Atlantic also interviewed Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary to gauge the nonprofit perspective on the utility of flexitarian campaigning. Baur insists that incrementalism works, yet, typical of animal charities, offers no compelling evidence to support such a claim. Given the overall increase in “meat” consumption and persistent stagnancy in vegan numbers, his claim is especially suspect. Indeed, Baur points to the 2008 dip in “meat” consumption as an example of successful incrementalism, making the unscientific leap that this temporary decline was due to a Farm Sanctuary campaign and not the historic economic recession. “Meat” consumption in 2018, incidentally, hit a record high in 2018.

Other vegan activists interviewed in the article insist that flexitarianism remains an important tool for reaching a public uninterested in animal liberation who may be swayed instead by appeals to health and environmental sustainability. However, as I emphasize in my research, this “common sense” perspective lacks evidence. Most vegans go vegan out of altruistic concern for other animals, not health or environmental concerns. And more importantly, for those who are not interested in veganism at all, the research indicates that flexitarians, in general, do not substantially cut back on their consumption of animal products. Some even consume more animal products than someone who does not identify as a flexitarian.

In other words, folks are being encouraged by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (Farm Sanctuary included) to adopt the flexitarian identity, even though this approach has not been proven to convert new vegans or significantly reduce consumption of animal products.

I emphasize that this free-riding (adopting the prosocial identity without changing behavior) is intentionally cultivated by movement elites such as Baur. This is because disinvested pseudo-members provide an illusion of mass support without charities having to share movement power democratically. Why do nonprofits do this? They are beholden to the state and elite-run foundations, both of which have a vested interest in the maintenance of speciesism.

 

Read my interview with The Atlantic here.
Read the original article, “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex,” here.
Read a summary of the article here.


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Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism 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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Can Flexitarianism Facilitate a Vegan World? Research Suggests Another Agenda

Can flexitarianism build a vegan world? In a meta-analysis of dozens of articles on vegan motivation, flexitarian dietary patterns, and consumer psychology, I conclude that the ideology of semi-vegetarianism promoted by the vegan/Nonhuman Animal rights movement is not supported by evidence.

Research does not support that flexitarianism facilitates meaningful change, but it does support a conservative movement culture that is conducive to industry, state, and elite interests. Activists frequently default to “common sense” mantras of “pragmatism” promoted by movement elites when deliberating strategy, but movement success will ultimately rely on objective analysis of social change processes independent of bureaucratic, institutional, ideological, or celebrity hearsay.

Research supports that most people who go vegan and stay vegan do so out of concern for Nonhuman Animals. Nonprofits, however, often focus on the health benefits of veganism. This is not supported by the research as a major motivator for behavior change. Nonprofits focus on health because it is less political and threatening than the idea of animal liberation.

Nonprofits mask this rationale by claiming that folks operate on self-interest and are more likely to be swayed by appeals to their own health. Research does not support this. Humans are more likely to be motivated by compassion and altruism when it comes to relations with other animals. Therefore, by promoting veganism as a moral obligation, nonprofits would be far more likely to affect change.

The Free-Rider Problem

In my body of research, I have suggested that nonprofits intentionally engage strategic blunders because nonprofit goals are generally distinct from radical social change goals. Could the vegan/Nonhuman Animal rights movement also be intentionally alienating the public from veganism even though veganism is an unavoidable necessity to end speciesism? I think so.

Historically, social movements have had to grapple with the problem of motivating people to participate. This is a problem because, theoretically, a rationally acting individual is more likely to want to sit on the sidelines and let someone else do the risky and costly work of activism. Activism can entail social stigma, risk of arrest, and career damage. It could even simply turn off folks who do not want to be bothered with crowds, bad weather, walking, calling up politicians, etc. If someone else is willing to do that work, why not just leave it up to them?

As one means of overcoming free-riding, collectives have begun to professionalize to ensure a dedicated cadre of activists working full time on a given social problem. Since the late 20th century, movements have taken on a bureaucratic, corporate form which allows them more stability and state support at the cost of their radical politics. Industries working in tandem with the state now funnel money into nonprofits as a means of soft control. Radical politics, as a result, are simply starved while moderates are glutted. What I suspect is that social movements today are actually encouraging free-riding in order to maintain control over movement organizations and the social movement arena itself. In effect, they are helping industries and the state to neutralize and deradicalize politics.

If a movement can facilitate a public that supports its cause but is not encouraged to actually participate beyond donating intermittently, this manufactured free-riding strips the democratic essence of a movement and ultimately weakens it. Movement organizations that use this strategy can expect institutional longevity, but the ability to create meaningful social change with power centralized in this way is stifled.

Why Unstructured Incrementalism is Less Effective 

These structural influences shape a social movement’s claimsmaking. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s leading nonprofits mask their allegiance to conservative cash flow by making appeals to common sense notions of behavior change. Rather than asking someone to make the big leap to veganism, nonprofits insist, ask them instead to make a few changes and ease their way into it. However, social psychological research has demonstrated time and time again that “common sense” explanations are frequently misleading. Humans are far less rational than we think we are.

Although the United States is a country with major economic, political, and social ties to exploiting Nonhuman Animals, values of freedom, fairness, and compassion mean that few Americans want to see themselves as someone who is cruel to other animals. Flexitarianism, then, is a form of incrementalism that allows people to keep participating in exploitative behaviors as the system encourages them to do, while also enacting deeply held values about compassion. America is a country of animal lovers who want to keep eating animals—charities can appeal to this cognitive dissonance by promising folks that they can identify as an animal lover without having to make any real behavior changes. This is the very definition of a free-rider.

In “Free-Riders in the Nonprofit Industrial Complex: The Problem of Flexitarianism” published in Society & Animals, I have explored dozens of studies on vegan motivation and consumption change. In many cases, those eating flexitarian are not really eating any less animal products and they are less committed, more likely to exhibit characteristics of eating disorders, and sometimes actually eat more animals than people who did not identify as flexitarian.

Other research finds that participants asked to eat prescribed diets of omnivorism, flexitarianism, and veganism experienced similar levels of satisfaction and adherence to the diet—so why not go for the gold and ask folks to go vegan? After all, veganism has a bigger impact on the well-being of both Nonhuman Animals and humans.

The research, in short, does not support that asking folks to go vegan repels them, but the movement repeatedly assures activists that it will. Something else is fueling this rationalization since the evidence explored in my meta-analysis is not lining up.

Evidence to the Utility of Vegan Campaigning

Some research from tobacco cessation programs supports the importance of being straightforward and honest about the desired change. Participants in some studies, for instance, who were asked to quit immediately were more successful than those asked only to cut back. Furthermore, participants who were given a scheduled means of reducing toward cessation were successful, too, since behavior change can be cognitively straining. Vegan organizations, however, are more likely to promote vague ideas about cutting back and never mention the word veganism.

Tobacco cessation research supports that either asking folks to quit altogether or providing them a clear plan towards a clear goal is effective, but Nonhuman Animal charities do neither. The reason for this is that nonprofits—as businesses–are ultimately more interested in financial stability and institutional survival than they are interested in actual social change. This is a basic sociological observation found across many industry sectors.

So long as nonprofits are beholden to foundations and the state for support, it is unlikely that vegan programming will ever be designed according to evidence-based scientific research. This is because the nonprofit goal is to promote generic, promotable social services for the purpose of ensuring its survival, not to promote radical social change which would threaten the elite-run foundations, the state, and the nonprofits themselves. Promoting flexitarianism allows the charity to appear to be doing good works without really mobilizing any radical change.

The Imperative of Critical Thinking and Scientific Accountability

Nonprofits with a genuine interest in creating a vegan world will need to reconsider the role of the public in pushing for change. Relying on foundations and the state for financial support creates an inherent conflict of interest. These organizations will also need to engage with scientific evidence to support their proscription for social change.

This research must be objective. Increasingly, nonprofits produce their own in-house research to draw on the legitimacy of science to lend credibility to tactics and strategies that, when studied objectively by outside parties, would not demonstrate effectiveness. In other words, nonprofits recognize that science helps sell their strategy as effective, but, since science cannot support their ineffective tactics, they simply create their own science.

A new movement culture that genuinely wishes to address the crisis of speciesism should, therefore, nurture unbiased, replicable research that is designed to benefit effective Nonhuman Animal liberation. Research manufactured by nonprofit staff with little to no scientific training with aims of improving the institution’s appeal to elite-run foundations is not the sort of research that will achieve a vegan world.

Ultimately, nonprofits present a serious conundrum for effective activism. Nonprofits have essentially become an extension of the state, making their long-term utility to the movement questionable. Large sums of money are too frequently thought necessary to enact social change, but this economic logic of growth has protected the nonprofit industry from necessary scrutiny. Sociological theory has demonstrated that capitalist structures both create and aggravate inequality. Grassroots mobilization that challenges hierarchical movement structures, the hegemony of capitalist interests, and concentrated decision-making could allow for an openness to strategies supported by the science.

 

Readers can access the entire article here.
A condensed version of this research in the context of wider vegan movement studies was covered by The Atlantic.

 


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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism 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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Why Food Justice is a Feminist Issue

In an interview with Alternet’sHere’s Why Our Food Systems are a Central Feminist Issue,” I was asked to elaborate on women’s contributions to critical food justice and how current sexual politics inhibit or even invisiblize women’s contributions today.

Both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and the environmental movement, I note, were established by women who strategically employed stereotypes about women’s proper role in nurturing and caring. This strategy was necessary to gain access to the public sphere in an era in which women were expected to remain inside the home and well outside of politics.

Unfortunately, this feminization persists in modern food justice efforts. Sociological and psychological research supports that environmental and vegan campaigns and products are less likely to find male support simply due to this feminization. This gender divide translates into a serious barrier to success given that men’s recognition is necessary for a movement to gain legitimacy in a patriarchal society.

Rather than celebrate women’s contributions to anti-speciesist efforts, the vegan movement has opted to elevate men in campaigning and leadership. This, to me, is indicative of intersectional failure. Patriarchal bargains are unlikely to liberate Nonhuman Animals given the historical relationship between sexism and speciesism:

… the fact that men have to be involved to bring legitimacy to a cause demonstrates that we still haven’t come to terms with the underlying ideological roots to oppression.

Readers can access the entire interview here.

 


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Readers can learn more about feminism and veganism 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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Veganism “At All Costs” Costs Animals

As my academic interests have turned to intersections of human and nonhuman inequality, I’ve come to recognize that many entanglements of oppression operate unchallenged within social justice spaces themselves. Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights/vegan movement presents a rich case study for sexism, racism, sizism, and classism. It also perfectly demonstrates the callous engagement of victim-blaming to protect this violence.

Once confronted with criticisms intramovement violence, many activists react by doubling down on discriminatory attitudes. Others simply ignore the problem altogether. Acknowledging intersectional failure is too often framed as “bad for the cause,” “drama,” or “attention-seeking.” This reaction is almost predictable given that the movement is dominated by those occupying positions of gender, race, body, or class privilege. Subsequently, the notion that veganism should be promoted at all costs, regardless of who it hurts, emerges as the movement mantra.

Violence in anti-speciesism efforts is a political problem. For one, it silences and intimidates existing activists. Silenced and intimidated activists are hardly effective ones. This violence also works to repel newcomers from participating. The strategy of pushing veganism at all costs while ignoring violence in the ranks means that new recruits will enter the movement only to bounce right back out. Worse, they may become victims, too. There is an imperative for activists to get their own house in order before welcoming new participants if the goal is to retain and sustain new vegans. It is even more important if the goal is to undermine violence rather than replicate it.

In The Revolution Starts at Home, activists across the social justice spectrum have observed that accusations of “creating drama” are employed so as to avoid airing a movement’s “dirty laundry.” This strategy is indicative of victim-blaming. By blaming the victim for the structural problems the victim identifies, the activist community attempts to redirect guilt and culpability. For instance, should they point out problems of racism, they are likely to be accused of racism themselves for the audacity of bringing up race in a society that is supposedly post-racial. Women who critique sexist patterns in the movement may be accused of hurting Nonhuman Animals with their selfishness. Victims are made to feel illogical, unreasonable, and insincere as a result. This is, curiously, a defense strategy that vegans themselves face when confronting nonvegans. The irony, however, is lost.

As a tactical matter, oppression cannot be undermined within a social movement community with willed ignorance.  As a philosophical matter, it is simply counterintuitive to proclaim that violence against animals should be combatted “at all costs” while simultaneously failing to address the more accessible suffering of human animals within the community. If the anti-speciesism movement cannot be a safe space for activists, it cannot be a powerful force. Instead, it only contributes to the culture of violence so abhorred by vegans.

The expectation is that presenting a false front of unity and cheerfulness will be more enticing to newcomers. But, again, ignoring the problem does not eliminate the problem. New activists lured under false pretenses are not likely to remain in the long term.

A version of this essay first appeared on the Academic Activist Vegan on December 4, 2013.


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Readers can learn more about the nonprofit industrial complex in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Pussy Grabs Back: How Feminists Bestialized Politics but Failed Nonhuman Animals

In an article published with Feminist Media Studies, I explore the symbolic application of animal imagery in America’s largest protest to date, the 2017 Million Women March. In the march, women and their allies “bestialized” politics in an attempt to reclaim their animality as an asset rather than a disparagement. In this study, I looked beyond the pink pussy hats to also consider how this bestialization manifested in protest slogans and signage. Not only were cat pictures and costumes prevalent, but protester discourse regularly included plays on words such as, “This pussy grabs back” and “Hear me roar.”

Although feline imagery made for compelling visual protest, I argue that the march ultimately constitutes what Kimberlé Crenshaw might identify as intersectional failure. This finding is not surprising. Throughout the history of Western feminism, the most privileged in the ranks–Western, white, straight, middle-class, cis-gender, human females–have taken precedence over the most vulnerable. The exclusion of Nonhuman Animals is only consistent with the fallibility of feminist solidarity.

 


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

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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.

 

 


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

Readers can learn more about factional politics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement 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 Social Psychology of Veganism – Bystander Effect

Paradoxically, the more people present when there is need for help, the less likely anyone is to help. Social psychologists refer to this as the bystander effect. It happens for at least two reasons. First, people pay less attention to their surroundings in a group setting. Second, people look to others on how to act.

There are conditions under which this effect is lessened. First, if there are no other bystanders, a single person is more likely to notice the situation, not get hung up on the reaction of others, take responsibility, and help. Secondly, in group situations, if one person acts, others are likely to follow suit.

Disrupting the bystander effect is essentially at the root of veganism. Modern society is bound by social norms of speciesism, and the propensity to follow group behavior renders vegan deviance unlikely. People look to friends, family, medical professionals, celebrities, and others to determine appropriate behavior. When that normalized behavior is encouraging society to ignore, hesitate, or refuse to help those nonhumans who suffer and die at human hands, it is then that vegans step in as bystanders to refuse their support and demand justice. If social norms can be fostered that make helping normal, the bystander effect can be thwarted.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Break the spell of bystander effect by acting first
  • Outreach that solicits action should target individuals not in group settings
  • Encourage prosocial group behavior to temper bystander effect

References

Bryan, J. and M. Test.  1967.  “Models and Helping:  Naturalistic Studies in Aiding Behavior.”   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6:  400-407.

Canter, D. J. Breaux, and J. Sime.  1980.  “Domestic, Multiple Occupancy, and Hospital Fires.”  In D. Canter (Ed.), Fires and Human Behavior.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley.

Latané, B. and J. Darley.  1968.  “Group Inhibition of Bystander Intervention in Emergencies.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 10:  215-221.

Latané, B. and J. Darley.  1970.  The Unresponsive Bystander.  Why Doesn’t He Help?  New York, NY:  Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Schnall, S., J. Roper, and D. Fessler.  2010.  “Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior.”  Psychological Science 21:  315-320.

Rushton, J. and A. Campbell.  1977.  “Modeling, Vicarious Reinforcement and Extraversion on Blood Donating in Adults:  Immediate and Long-Term Effects.”  European Journal of Social Psychology 7:  267-306.

 

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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Distraction

As any good magician knows, distraction is key to landing a trick successfully. Activists can benefit from distraction as well. Research finds that audience members who are distracted are more likely to accept a message and are less likely to counterargue (Keating and Brock 1974, Osterhouse and Brock 1970).

Alternatively, advertisements steeped in violence and/or sex run the risk of being too distracting.  People who view commercials featuring either or both of these elements are less likely to remember what the advertised brand was (Bushman 2007). This is damning information for a great deal of vegan outreach efforts. For instance, PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than” campaign distracts from an anti-speciesist message with rampant nudity. Social psychologists in Australia have measured that PETA’s audience members are less likely to absorb the message due to the distraction caused by sexualization. It’s not just the naked bodies that distract, it’s also the misogyny.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Ensure that tactics do not distract from the message
  • Avoid too much music, light, acting, sexualization, and violence which can distract
  • Avoid sexist campaigning

References

Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., Haslam, N. 2013. “When Sex Doesn’t Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns.”PLOS One. 

Bushman, B.  2007.  “That Was a Great Commercial, But What Were They Selling?  Effects of Violence and Sex on Memory for Products in Television Commercials.”  Journal of Applied Social Psychology 37:  1784-1796.

Keating, J. and T. Brock.  1974.  “Acceptance of Persuasion and the Inhibition of Counterargumentation Under Various Distraction Tasks.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 10:  301-309.

Osterhouse, R. and T. Brock.  1970.  “Distraction Increases Yielding to Propaganda by Inhibiting Counterarguing.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 15:  344-358.

Regan, D. and J. Cheng.  1973.  “Distraction and Attitude Change:  A Resolution.”  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9:  138-147.

 

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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Forewarning

Forewarning creates resistance (Freedman and Sears 1965). If an audience is warned ahead of time that they are about to be exposed to a persuasion attempt, it is less likely that they will be persuaded. In the courtroom, for instance, if a defense attorney warns the jury of the prosecution’s upcoming evidence, potential attitude change can be mitigated (Dolnik et al. 2003).

What this means for vegan activism is that a “surprise attack” should be more effective. Vegan Outreach successfully employs this tactic by hiring unassuming college-aged advocates to quietly hand out booklets to students during the rush between classes. Students usually accept the booklets without any interaction with the Vegan Outreach employee. It is only as they flip through the material en route to class that they are presented with the case for vegetarianism. Other groups prevent forewarning by offering free vegan cookies or cupcakes to passerby. It is only after the treat is tasted that activists divulge that it was actually vegan and offer them animal liberation literature.

Sneaky advocacy is sometimes the more effective approach. If people know that a persuasion attempt is imminent, they will fortify their mental defenses so as not to budge. While there is something to be said for being straightforward (recall that the mere-exposure effect illustrates that familiarity with a message increases positive association), forewarning may not be helpful when giving a one-time presentation

In general, avoiding forewarning is advised when activists know they will be dealing with a stubborn audience. In the Freedman and Sears (1965) study, the title of the presentation was all it took to dissuade the audience. Thus, activists might avoid titles such as, “Why You Should Be Vegan.”

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Do not forewarn audience that a persuasion attempt is imminent
  • For outreach events, do not use titles that suggest a persuasion attempt

References

Dolnik, L., T. Case, and K. Williams.  2003.  “Stealing Thunder as a Courtroom Tactic Revisted:  Processes and Boundaries.”  Law and Human Behavior 27:  265-285.

Freedman, J. and D. Sears.  1965.  “Warning, Distraction, and Resistance to Influence.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1:  262-266.

 

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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.

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The Social Psychology of Veganism – Age

Diversity in the activist’s audience means that there will be no one-size-fits-all tactic. This essay examines how changes in an individual’s lifespan can shape their receptiveness to a vegan message.

For the most part, attitudes are generational (Sears 1976). Belief systems formed in youth tend to hold constant throughout an individual’s life. Research supports that attitudes are most malleable in one’s teens and early twenties (Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin 1989). Older individuals are certainly not immune to cultural shifts and can experience liberal attitude change as well (Danigelis and Cutler 1991), but it will be a trickier task.

This explains why many vegan outreach organizations target college students. Given that resources are so limited, it makes sense to focus efforts on a younger audience. This is not to say that efforts would be lost on other audiences, but if the choice must be made between leafleting on a college campus and a community center, the college campus would probably extract a greater return.

The fact that cultural shifts can influence those who are more resistant to attitude change is also promising. For instance, research finds that those who were already past their twenties during the civil rights era were still measurably less conservative. In other words, older people may have missed the wave, but the societal changes that resulted had at least some impact on most everyone. Focusing on the younger population will therefore have a direct impact on that younger audience, but it should have an indirect impact on older individuals as well.

Finally, to completely exclude older persons would be problematic given that such a strategy relies on inaccurate stereotypes of older persons as set in their ways and close-minded. Because veganism entails a healthful plant-based diet, older persons could benefit greatly from vegan outreach. The mental health gains associated with a more just relationship with other animals would also be a positive asset. Outreach strategies that are too exclusive risk replicating inequality. Veganism should be made available to everyone.

 

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Target teens and young adults
  • Be mindful of ageism and do not stereotype or exclude older audiences

References

Danigelis, N. and S. Cutler.  1991.  “An Inter-Cohort Comparison of Changes in Racial Attitudes.”  Research on Aging 13 (3):  383-404.

Krosnick, J. and D. Alwin.  1989.  “Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57:  416-425.

Sears, D.  Life Stage Effects Upon Attitude Change, Especially Among the Elderly.  Manuscript prepared for Workshop on the Elderly of the Future, Committee on Aging, National Research Council, Annapolis, MD, May 3-5.

This essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.


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

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism 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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