Animal Rights. Social Movement

Adela Morar




What is a social movement and how it applies in society? In order to understand better this concept, we need to take a further look at explaining what a social movement means. A social movement is defined as an organized collective effort that focuses the attention on a social change. In other words, it persists in time more than other collective behavior. Majority of social movements include protection of environment, right of certain groups, particular beliefs and so on.

Moving forward, after we analyzed what social movement means, it’s also important to understand the animal rights movement. This concept is defined as diverse individuals concerned with protecting animals from perceived abuse, by the use of animals for medical or cosmetics testing, killing animal for furs or even hunting for pleasure.

Going back to history, we can highlight that prevention of cruelty to animals became an important movement in early 19th Century England, where it grew alongside the humanitarian current that advanced human rights. In 1822 Colonel Richard Martin succeeded in passing an act in the House of Commons preventing cruelty to such larger domestic animals and two years later he organized the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to help enforce the law.

After, in the early 1970s, organizations, such as Greenpeace, regarding environment activities, began protesting against annual slaughter of Canadian fur seals.  The movement gained support in time, thus membership in national animal rights organizations (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), had been responsible in large part for reducing regulation in the use of animals in research.

Eighteenth Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, addressed society a moral perspective of pleasure and pain for animal rights, by stating:

“The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

Stating the fact that a social movement litigates an issue, then it must therefore bring a solution to it. Kim Stallwood, an independent author on animal rights characterizes 5 steps through which a successful social movement develops. First, the public education is the basic element from which the issue can be embraced by people into their lives. Second, the public policy encounters support from political parties, schools, associations and so on, by adopting a position regarding the issue. Third, after public policy is formulated, the laws are passed on the matter. After, the fourth step is to implement the law or any other public policy instruments. And the last one is the most important, when the issue is embraced by society, through public acceptance.

In his opinion, these 5 steps represent every stage a social movement has reached so far and it determines whether the movement stagnates or succeeds.

Stallwood also talks about animals as being inferior to people. He argues that most of the people who believe in still using animals will consider any rights animals may have subordinated to human interests. Therefore, even in human history the so called men superior to women, whites to black are represented in this case as humans superior to animals, called speciesism.

Philosopher Peter Singer rooted the concept of “speciesism” as a parallel to racism and sexism.

The civil rights and women’s liberation movements directed the attention to human rights, and an extension of rights principles by analogy to animals proved an easier step. Animal rights organizations borrowed tactics from other movements, and applied them against laboratory experimentation on animals, wearing fur, factory farming and pleasure hunting.

Questions like Should I stop eating meat? Should I visit a zoo? regards only consumerism in vegetarianism and cruelty-free. Inevitably, the animal rights movement confronts the animal industrial complex because of its instrumental use of animals.

The animal rights movement is still in an early stage of development. Many of the groups begun since the 1950s are in their first generation of leadership. Many of their goals may appear to the general public that animal rights advocates have come a long way in the past decade. History shows that social movements, including animal rights, are accused routinely of seeking change which will adversely impact society if they achieve their objective.

Does animal rights movement turned out beneficial for society? Not sure yet, since researchers like Kim Stallwood says the animal rights movement has not progressed much from first stage (Public Education), with some presence in Stages Two (Public Policy), Three (Legislation) and Four (Implementation).

As we grow in a new century, we readjust, accommodate and move on, in all likelihood, all the better for it.




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