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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is there an animal rights MOVEMENT as such? What social science evidence is there?

I'm interested in your assessment, from your professional and academic study, of whether the (so-called?) 'animal rights movement' has the capacity to effectively foster and help implement fundamental change in the social and legal status of animals in North America?

A political scientist from Harvard and the University of Michigan, Dr. Carl Phillips (presenting himself consistently as an
ethical vegan, we all saw), argued at the beginning of this century that the (idea of the) 'animal rights movement' is a myth because, though there may be growing understanding and support for 'it's' values and outlooks and scientific research is deepening and broadening the evidence base for such outlooks and values, the collage of constituencies present NONE of the characteristics of a social movement:

no cohesion

no lore or repertoire

no campaigns (well, there's the Great American Meatout, but that's about kicking the meat habit for one day of the year, on March 20th, and it's a rag tag annually-collected group of volunteers who voluntarily report to FARM on their 'doings' - including 'steak-outs')

While Charles Tilly (2004) defines big social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people made collective claims on others, most of those who claim to be 'animal rights advocates' are sheepish about making any general and broadly defensible claims UPON others (that have any impact) because they prefer an outlook and value system of individual (and I'd argue arbitrary) self-justification (the 'choice' movement).

Distinguishing social movements from political parties and advocacy groups, Sidney Tarrow (1994) defines a social movement as collective challenges [to elites, authorities, other groups, or cultural codes] by persons with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents, and authorities. Most often, those who are most outspoken in national organizations that claim to be animal rights' organizations (and really are welfarist organizations) have chosen VERY LOUDLY a political party where the overwhelming majority are neither vegetarian (let alone vegan) and have no concept of rights pertaining to anyone other than to members of their own species.

It all seems pretty humble, I'd say, and while humility is a virtue with its own charm, this set of human stirrings seems more of the 'humbleness' variety that lacks any socially organic sense of itself (that's definable and self-defined, evidence-based, and consequentially effective.

Now I suspect that Carl Phillips had been thinking of writing a book on the topic because he was very thorough in his efforts to disabuse us all of the notion that we comprised a movement. Then, after 'flashing on the scene' (in the rhetoric of the 1960s) and 'dissing' everyone who looked prominent in (what many of us had THOUGHT to be 'the AR movement'), he disappeared (from 'the scene') to be hardly discoverable without significant efforts. To this extent, some could have thought he was 'a plant' from elsewhere, but he seemed very genuine throughout his graduate careers at U Mich and Harvard, and he spoke well and genuinely about the scientific reasons for being vegetarian and for replacing animal models in the various life sciences. If Dr. Phillips had been a plant, he surely seemed to be 'a vegan plant' and not the sort that could have sown any destruction EXCEPT the doubt that we could be termed 'a social movement' or 'a political movement' in the systematic analysis of ANY of the social or political theorists who write about such historical processes.

Though bureaucratization seems to be common in 'the national AR organizations (e.g. PETA, Fund for Animals, AAVS, NAVS, PCRM, et al. - perhaps characteristic of the phenomenon's middle class roots in America and Europe), we (ARAs = animal rights advocates) may have failed to 'coalesce', in the terms of Blumer, Mause, and Tilly, and that failure could be the process disruption that kept or keeps us from emerging as a viable social movement - a failure to coalesce (despite the emergence of a plurality of 'voices' that seem too often polarized or alienated from one another.

Any thoughts on that?

His lectures were passionate, robust, genuine, engaging and interesting to the point of being fascinating, and 'bursting at the seams' in the sense that (as I recall them) they often went past the stopping time.

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