Research review: Animal Charity Evaluators Social Movement Case Studies

Price: Free
Ease of use: **
Value for EAA beginners: *
Value for EAA pros: ***

Disclaimer: From tomorrow, I will be working full-time as a researcher for Sentience Institute, who conduct social movement studies themselves. The views expressed here are exclusively my own.

In February 2018, ACE announced that they were discontinuing their social movement project. Apart from resource constraints, ACE also admitted that the social movement case studies that their interns had created were of variable quality. Although I believe these case studies are useful (more on that below), some are better researched, analysed and explained than others. The case studies are all freely available here.

Summaries of the Individual Case Studies

Unnamed intern at ACE (Unknown date) “Environmentalism”: This case study evaluates the impact of three features of the environmentalism movement. Firstly, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and secondly, the widespread promotion of Earth Day, are both credited with playing an important role in pushing environmentalism into the American (and to a lesser extent, global) political mainstream. The author does not really attempt to rigorously distinguish coincidence and correlation from historical causation; they have several paragraphs recognising this difficulty, but seem to proceed on with some perhaps overly confident analysis about the importance of these works. Further research would be needed for me to update my views particularly strongly in favour of these sorts of interventions in the way that the author recommends them. Nevertheless, some of the specific reflections are useful, such as on how the credibility of the author can affect the impact of their works. The third section considers the growth of recycling. The analysis is short, but the discussion of moral licensing effects is useful, since this might imply that individual consumer change is less impactful overall than it might appear.

Amanda Lueke (2014) “Fat Activism”: This post is the shortest of the ACE social movement case studies. It focuses primarily on summarising the Fat Activism movement’s features. The analysis of which tactics have been most helpful for the movement is anecdotal and intuitive. The author proposes some lessons for EAA from the Fat Activism movement – that blogging is a useful entry point for activists, and that coordination with other social movements can increase reach and support – but I did not find the analysis convincing enough to update my views much for either of these issues.

Allison Smith and unnamed ACE intern? (2015) “Social Movements Case Study: Children’s Rights”: I found this to be the most useful of the ACE case studies. The analysis focuses on several different sections. Firstly, on the context of 19th to 20th century British children’s rights legislation. This section mostly takes the form of a chronological narrative, and there is relatively little evaluation, or consideration of causation. This section is therefore not particularly useful in its current form, although I suspect that further research here could be valuable. The second section focuses on the outlawing of corporal punishment for children in Sweden, and the effect that this had on other countries. The analysis here is much clearer, as it draws on wider social science research on the subject. There is a clear effort to distinguish the impact of the legislation from the counterfactuals, which leads the author to tentatively conclude that changing legislation “might spur on opinion change by legitimizing the view it represents”. The analysis also suggests that opinion change correlates at least partially with behaviour change, and that legal change can influence legislation in other countries too. The final section analyses the more recent success of campaigning for similar legislation in New Zealand, with a focus on the activism tactics. Although the lessons are not all clear cut or directly transferable to EAA, this section suggests some methods of institutional advocacy which can be impactful even without widespread public support, including building coalitions of supporting organisations, and lobbying politicians directly.

Unnamed ACE intern (unknown date) “The British Antislavery Movement And The Abolition Of The Slave Trade In 1807”: This analysis is less useful, purely because it has largely been superseded by a more detailed study by Kelly Witwicki of Sentience Institute (see my summary here). The ACE analysis does have some elements not considered in SI’s analysis; the first section establishes the importance of abolition as a “social movement”, rather than as an inevitable economic change. Otherwise, the two analyses share many similarities, such as noting that the British antislavery movement suggests the importance and tractability of legislative change. Like the Fat Activism case study, the author of this analysis also sees historical evidence for the importance of diversity in EAA and of alliances across social and moral causes.

Use of the case studies within ACE

In ACE’s February announcement, Toni Adleberg wrote that “we feel that evidence from other social movements can (and should) be incorporated in our other research programs: our intervention research, foundational research, and experimental research.” Indeed, ACE’s revised intervention report methodology incorporates a section for “Evidence from the Social Sciences”, which includes reference to social movements. The leafleting intervention report hardly focused on this, dealing with it in a couple of short paragraphs and bullet points. The intervention report on protests, however, focused much more on the evidence from a variety of related academic fields. The evidence from social movements play an important part, being referred to 29 times, although they don’t explicitly reference the work of their own interns.

Wider uses of the case studies

Social movement studies provide qualitative evidence which is most useful for macro questions and wider EAA strategy. They have, for example, made me feel that it could be more tractable to secure far-reaching restrictions on factory farming than I had previously believed, and that the EAA movement should therefore prioritise building towards such legislation (see my post on this here). They also suggest that individual consumer action is less valuable than we might otherwise assume.

Social movement studies can also offer more specific lessons for particular interventions, such as how best to implement legislative efforts, or what sorts of dangers might arise. Steven Wise of the Non-Human Rights Project has, for example, extensively studied the 1772 Lord Mansfield case in order to inform his efforts to secure legal personhood for non-human animals. The author of the ACE children’s rights case study had suggested that further study of the legal struggles in that social movement might reveal similar insights.

In all of these situations, we must be wary of the many differences between the social movements being studied and the EAA movement today, of course. The specificities of the past should not be applied in a simplified, thoughtless manner to the differing problems of today. When considering wider questions and macro strategy, social movement studies may only provide weak evidence; but weak evidence can be useful. Even if these case studies by ACE are imperfect, at the moment they are some of the most thorough write-ups we have (in terms of directly linking the movements towards EAA) and so their importance should not be undervalued. If they are all superseded by more thorough analyses, this will be a good thing, but I would encourage the EAA movement to cautiously use these case studies in the meantime.

Although the case studies are fairly intuitively laid out, with clear sub-titles, I have ranked ease of use poorly because the varying quality of the case studies means that I would not encourage readers to take the lessons at face value, without reading the material and engaging with the information there critically.

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