The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.
Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5 (2): 155-170.
Social movement scholars have long studied actors’ mobilization into and continued involvement in social movement organizations. A more recent trend in social movement literature concerns cultural activism that takes place primarily outside of social movement organizations. Here I use the vegan movement to explore modes of participation in such diffuse cultural movements. As with many cultural movements, there are more practicing vegans than there are members of vegan movement organizations. Using data from ethnographic interviews with vegans, this article focuses on vegans who are unaffiliated with a vegan movement organization. The sample contains two distinctive groups of vegans – those in the punk subculture and those who were not – and investigates how they defined and practiced veganism differently. Taking a relational approach to the data, I analyze the social networks of these punk and non-punk vegans. Focusing on discourse, support, and network embeddedness, I argue that maintaining participation in the vegan movement depends more upon having supportive social networks than having willpower, motivation, or a collective vegan identity. This study demonstrates how culture and social networks function to provide support for cultural movement participation.
Cherry’s sociological research into the importance of networks and culture in vegan outreach and vegan retainment reminds us that promoting veganism is more than leafleting to strangers and graphic images. Many vegans go vegan and stay vegan because it is culturally normative. More specifically, there are others in their social circles who are vegan.
This closeness to other vegans creates a familiarity with vegan living, lends social support, and significantly reduces stigma. We learn what foods, music, fashion, morals, values, etc. are desirable from those around us, and veganism is no exception. Given that social institutions are generally elite-driven and protect oppressive structures, subcultures that reject mainstream values are especially important for normalizing radical, justice-focused choices like veganism. Some organizations attempt to recreate these networks and subcultures by sponsoring vegan mentorship programs.
Readers can learn more about vegan motivation in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.
This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 7, 2013.