quarta-feira, 29 de julho de 2015

Is the animal rights movement a social movement?

by Pierre-André Gagnon

Does the animal rights movement qualify as a social movement? That seemingly trivial question could be more important than it appears. Indeed, sociologist Lily Munro argued in 2012 that it remains “one of the most misunderstood social movements of our era” (2012, p. 167). This is not surprising given that most authors simply assume that they do not need to justify their claim when they define the animal rights movement as a social movement. In other words, its status as a social movement is rarely theoretically problematized in the literature. This gap constitutes a serious problem for the animal rights movement because, as Bob Torres pointed out, “action without theory is often absolutely counterproductive, and at the worst, can be self-defeating.” (2007, p. 111) In an attempt to fill this theoretical gap, the question guiding my presentation will be: “Where to locate the animal rights movement in the social movement literature?”
A few attempts have been made to qualify the animal rights movement. A literature review indicates that it has been described as 1) a new social movement, 2) a post-citizenship movement, and 3) a lifestyle movement. In this presentation, I will assess each of these claims. I will argue that new social movement theory and post-citizenship movement theory are too general to have much explanatory power. On the other hand, lifestyle movement theory seems to offer much explanatory power to understand the animal rights movement as conceptualized by many abolitionists, especially by like Gary Francione (2010).
My presentation will conclude with some reflections on the consequences of conceptualizing the animal rights movement as a lifestyle movement. Most importantly, I will argue that lifestyle movement theory highlights an important point that has also been raised by many authors (such as Brian Luke (2007) and David Nibert (2013)): because the animal rights movement mostly focuses its analysis on the individual level (i.e. a person lifestyle choice), the social structures, mainly the speciesist ideology, that for the most part determine lifestyle choices in the first place remain invisible. In other words, while lifestyle movement theory can be useful to describe part of the animal rights movement, it does not offer any theoretical insight as to what the movement should be doing to change these social structures. For these reasons, it appears that a better theoretical understanding of the animal rights movement as a social movement is necessary to guide its action.


Pierre-André Gagnon is a Ph.D. Student in Political Science at the University of Ottawa, Canada. His thesis proposes a gramscian analysis of the interaction between the animal rights movement and the Animal Industrial Complex. His interests also include the animal rights movement as a social movement as well as political theory.

Email: PGAGN031@uottawa.ca

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