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  • Writer's pictureClaudia Hirtenfelder

Mobilizing The Animal Rights Movement

Updated: Mar 22

In my latest conversation on The Animal Turn I spoke to Corey Lee Wrenn about social movement mobilization. We discussed how feminism has been sidelined in the animal rights movement as well as the significance of infighting and incremental change narratives within (and about) the movement.

Corey highlights how the vegan animal rights movement remains plagued by racism and sexism where both women and people of colour continue to be sidelined at mainstream vegan events and/or receive vitriolic commentary on public forums. The sidelining of women’s voices and feminist narratives within the animal rights movement has a long history which has been wonderfully captured by Carol Adams and Lori Gruen in the second edition of Ecofeminism.

Not only did The Oxford Group – and their rational agenda - have “a chilling effect” on the contributions of women to the movement but there continues to be a tendency to oversimplify feminist scholarly work by focusing on only a handful of its contributors. Corey argues that while speciesism is “at the very root of all oppressions” it is necessary to challenge practices of racism and sexism within the animal rights movement because, as she puts it: “if we have a movement that’s not actually enacting the type of world we want to live in, how effective is it going to be?”



Corey cautions us, however, to be mindful of how we understand disagreements within the animal rights movement. Infighting and boundary-making are “nothing personal” but rather “a predictable consequence of people coming together to do the messy business of constructing the social world” (Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits: 1). As Corey notes, factionalism is a normal part of social movement mobilization and can even contribute to significant developments. Within the animal rights movement, infighting is responsible for promoting veganism and challenging established practices such as euthanizing animals in shelters.



More challenging to the animal rights movement than infighting, is the bureaucratization and capitalization of the movement. According to Corey, big welfare organizations often mobilize the rhetoric that the world will not go vegan overnight to the detriment of animal rights. They will often promote, for example, flexitarianism without placing veganism as an end goal. Organizations use stop gaps such as these to intentionally water down their approaches because they know if they advocate for veganism, it might challenge their access to donor funding. There are numerous examples of smaller, radical organizations diluting and softening their stances on animal rights as they professionalize, see for example PETA and Compassion Over Killing (now Animal Outlook). Therefore, the idea that the bigger an organization becomes the more successful it will be in achieving its radical goals is, Corey argues, an illusion.


Nonetheless, while the animal rights movement remains relatively sidelined in radical circles and is increasingly being softened through professionalization, there is some evidence to suggest that it might be gaining traction within the climate change movement. The success of the Plant Based University Campaign and The Plant Based Treaty suggest that there might be thawing the orphaning of veganism in other radical circles.  


Corey Lee Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology with the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Political Movements at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016), was elected Chair in 2018, and co-founded the International Association of Vegan Sociologists in 2020. She serves as Book Review Editor for Society & Animals, Consulting Editor for Psychology of Human-Animal Intergroup Relations, and Editor for The Sociological Quarterly, is a member of The Vegan Society’s Research Advisory Committee, and hosts Sociology & Animals Podcast. Corey has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016), Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits (University of Michigan Press 2019), Animals in Irish Society (SUNY Press 2021), Vegan Witchcraft: Contemporary Magical Practice and Multispecies Social Change (forthcoming, Routledge) and Vegan Feminism: History, Theory, Activism (forthcoming, Bloomsbury). Find out more about Corey on her website or connect with her on Twitter (@DrCoreyLeeWrenn).


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