The Relationship Between Animal Studies And Animal Advocacy: A Review
Animal rights philosophy and scholarship has had a profound effect on advocacy over the years, and in many ways, the two are intrinsically linked. However, in recent years, the rise of animal studies has challenged that notion. Scholars without a personal belief in any sort of animal ethics may find animal issues interesting for study, but the results of the study don’t necessarily inform their day-to-day lives. In some cases, they may even become less interested in animal rights or animal welfare.
This paper reviews the findings of an online survey conducted to determine the attitudes of animal studies scholars toward animal advocacy. While the survey topics were wide-ranging, this paper reviews only the following three interrelated topics: the animal scholars’ opinions on what role animal studies should play in animal advocacy; the scholars’ personal commitments to animal advocacy; and how their attitudes toward animal advocacy differed depending on whether they eat animals or not.
The survey was open to anyone who identified as an animal studies scholar. The participants were asked to describe their dietary habits and were then split into two categories: vegans and non-vegans. This categorization might seem restrictive, but given the variety with which one can exclude animal products from one’s life, it was most suitable to test for statistically significant results.
The percentage of vegans and non-vegans among the survey participants was uncommon (33% vegan; 67% non-vegan), compared to the relatively low number of vegans in the general population (anywhere from 1% to 4%, approximately). And yet, these percentages are surprising in the context of the survey results.
The results reveal that almost all of the scholars (both vegan and non-vegan) were highly interested in animals before becoming an animal scholar. They also think that animal studies scholarship should be committed to improving animals’ well-being. The authors point out the puzzling nature of these results: many animal scholars, while being committed to animal welfare, continue eating animal products.
In addition to questions about diet, participants were asked about their personal involvement in animal advocacy before they became an animal scholar. There was a significant difference in responses, with vegans showing a much higher commitment to advocacy (79%) than non-vegans (43%). So, the scholars’ level of engagement in advocacy work strongly correlates with whether they are vegan or not.
The authors suggest that these findings reveal the philosophical diversity within this relatively new area of study. However, they also propose that non-vegan animal studies scholars are reluctant to admit the sovereignty of humans over animals. It is still normal in every society to eat animals, and it’s also regarded as a personal choice.
The authors suggest that the role of animal studies scholars could be particularly important in defying social norms and making veganism a more political issue. Based on the survey results, however, the vegan scholars know this, since so many of them are politicizing veganism beyond diet by taking part in advocacy work.
An interest in broader social change may be crucial for the development of the animal studies field. Still, there is some concern among a small group of scholars that animal studies scholarship might be seen as tainted by a close connection to animal advocacy and driven by an activist imperative. However, this concern is outweighed by the scholars’ larger concern for animal welfare.
The challenge, the authors conclude, is for the field of animal studies to remain wide-ranging while incorporating an emancipatory focus in its research and emphasizing the animals themselves.