Ten years after Tierney, criminologists Hester & Eglin asked
- Given that in, say, 1970 there were no shelters for battered women, no programmes, no organisations, no news stories, no public concern, in short, no “problem,” and given further that there is no real basis for claiming that there has been any significant change in the incidence of wife beating in the following 10 years, what, then, accounts for the existence of all these things in 1980?
What had altered the situation in those ten years was claims-making and discussion of the issue, not least by feminist social movement organisations. This marks the significance of social movements in civil society: they are claims makers.
According to Spector & Kitsuse,  claims-making activities include
- demanding services, filling out forms, lodging complaints, filing lawsuits, calling press conferences, writing letters of protest, passing resolutions, publishing exposes, placing ads in newspapers, supporting or opposing some governmental practice or policy, setting up picket lines or boycotts.
Much of that will sound familiar to members of the animal advocacy movement, as will their list of claims makers
- Protest groups or moral crusaders who make demands and complaints; the officials or agencies to whom such complaints are directed; members of the media who publicise and disseminate news about such activities (as well as participating in them); commissions of inquiry; legislative bodies and executive or administrative agencies that respond to claims-making constituents; members of the helping professions, such as physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, and sometimes, social scientists who contribute to the definition and development of social problems.
Some of that is rather twee, to be sure, and many may struggle to place social workers and psychiatrists as part of the “helping professions,” but the general thrust is relevant to at least some of the main activities of the animal movement.
Perhaps what we need to distil in our minds, however, is summed up by Brian Lowe thus
- Social movements and other subcultures that intend to alter certain cultural perceptions within their host culture often attempt to do so through adding moral claims to previously unquestioned cultural practices.
I regularly note that, sociologically, social movements like the animal advocacy movement are claims-making enterprises. I have also pointed toward the problems created - for those who want to take rights seriously - by the claims-making of the prevailing animal movement.
This is because, despite being persistently labelled (often self-labelled) the “animal rights movement,” most claims within the movement are not rights-based claims and rarely have been. When I say rights-based claims, I mean the claims of the sort made by the human rights movement and human rights organisations. I suggest that, if one were to ask a range of people what the human rights movement is concerned about, what it is against, it would not be long before the notions of rights abuses and rights violations would feature in the answers.
Such answers would reflect how human rights organisations often describe themselves and spell out their aspirations. It would reflect some of their main claims-making. For example, from Amnesty International
- DUBLIN, 26th May 2016 - Amnesty International is today publishing its policy on protecting sex workers from human rights violations and abuses, along with four research reports on these issues in Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Norway and Argentina. “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination…” said Tawanda Mutasah, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Law and Policy.
Similarly, Human Rights Watch says
- Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the creation of Helsinki Watch, designed to support the citizens groups formed throughout the Soviet bloc to monitor government compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Helsinki Watch adopted a methodology of publicly “naming and shaming” abusive governments through media coverage and through direct exchanges with policymakers. By shining the international spotlight on human rights violations in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Helsinki Watch contributed to the dramatic democratic transformations of the late 1980s.
In contrast, ask what concerns the “animal rights movement” – what is it against - and I suggest that respondents will rarely if ever cite rights violations and rights abuses. They are much more likely to talk about a preoccupation with levels of “animal cruelty” and “animal suffering.” For example, the US branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) says this
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with more than 5 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of beavers, birds and other “pests,” and the abuse of backyard dogs. PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.
This is what British national organisation Animal Aid says
- Animal Aid is the UK’s largest animal rights group and one of the longest established in the world, having been founded in 1977. We campaign peacefully against all forms of animal abuse and promote a cruelty-free lifestyle. We investigate and expose animal cruelty, and our undercover investigations and other evidence are often used by the media, bringing these issues to public attention.
The “animal rights” claims are markedly different from the human rights claims, aren’t they? No substantive claims about right-holding, no mention of a fundamental concern with animal rights abuses and/or animal rights violations. And from the “largest animal rights organisation in the world” and one of the “longest established in the world.” These are animal welfare claims dressed up as animal rights.
PeTA state that it is concerned by intense suffering for long periods. They are opposed to “cruel killing,” and presumably adopt their philosopher Peter Singer’s view that non-cruel killing is morally acceptable. Animal Aid’s declaration, again emphasising cruelty, is a little better; but there is still no mention of animal rights and animal rights violations. To their credit, and unlike PeTA, Animal Aid do stock an animal rights book in their online store.
However, this is pretty poor fare at the end of the day from a declared rights movement – one does not expect or find Amnesty International implying it’s only the “cruel killing” of human beings that bothers them – they are opposed to all killing of human beings, and why? – because they regard human beings as right holders and, thus, killing is a rights violation. Not versed in the language of rights, the “animal rights movement” reverts to animal welfare claims about cruelty.
A Simple Survey
I decided to conduct a simple survey, using the internet, trying to gain some information about the prevalence of rights-based claims in the human rights and “animal rights” movements. In turn, then, I googled the following terms: “rights violations,” “human rights violations,” and “animal rights violations.” Try it: see if you get similar results…
The “rights violations” search resulted in 84 million results. However, I found not one single mention of the rights of animals other than those of human animals – none in any entry on the first 10 pages, nor on pp. 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35. No mention of animal rights, only human rights.
I then searched “human rights violations” and looked at the first four pages of results. This search revealed consistent references to human rights, human rights violations, and human rights organisations. Finally, I searched “animal rights violations” and, again, examined the first four pages. The results can, at best, be called “mixed.”
Indeed, the results brought up as many if not more references to “animal cruelty” and “animal welfare violations” as it did for “animal rights,” even though, in this case, the key words used were “animal rights violations.”
The very first entry refers to a group called Animal Freedom. Turns out, however, that their idea of “animal rights violations” is reduced to the RSPCA’s “five freedoms” – in other words, to the regulation of animal property use, or animal welfarism. This approach seems to be common in the animal advocacy movement. Since animal welfarism is so dominant in its thinking, the notion of rights are limited to the notion of rights-to-welfare, or some version of “treatment rights” for other animals while they are being exploited.
There was one link toward the bottom of a page worthy of a visit I thought. Journalist Indrani Dutta seems to have written in references to “rights violations” in a report about PeTA. Dutta, however, also writes, “PETA, which was founded in 1980, has been campaigning for some time now against what it describes as cruelty meted out to animals in the country during transportation for slaughter.” She also notes that PeTA sources suggested that, “We have had talks with other animal rights activists in India, like People for Animals and Blue Cross, and we are confident that we can launch a campaign against the leather sector any time we want.” Given the idea that People for Animals and the Blue Cross of India are characterised as “animal rights activists,” this article seems to be crying out for a little deconstruction from linguist Mary Martin Loder.
I make no claim that these findings are particularly rigorous or overwhelmingly significant – but they are indicative and follow a distinct pattern. We are drawn back – once again – to Donald Watson’s notion of ripening the public to new ideas. It is somewhat ironic, isn’t it, that decades of campaigning by an “animal rights movement” has apparently done little or nothing to help the public to seriously consider the claims that other animals are rights bearers and what happens to them are rights violations. A major theoretical fault line remains at the heart of the global “animal rights movement.”
 Tierney, K.J. (1982) ‘The battered women movement and the creation of the wife beating problem’, Social Problems 29(3): 207-220.
 Spector, M. & Kitsuse, JI. (1987) Constructing Social Problems. Chicago: Aldine.
 however, I had to request that they stock a Gary Francione book and justify the reasons why they should.