Type of Document Dissertation Author Girgen, Jen Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-04102008-190033 Title Constructing Animal Rights Activism as a Social Threat: Claims-Making in the New York Times and in Congressional Hearings Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Ted Chiricos Committee Chair Bruce Bullington Committee Member James Orcutt Committee Member Keywords
- Animal Rights
- Social Threat
- Social Control
Date of Defense 2008-04-08 Availability unrestricted AbstractSince the mid-1970s, the modern U.S. animal rights movement has grown in size and influence. Membership in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights organization, for instance, has grown from fewer than 100 members in 1980 (Plous, 1991), to more than 1,800,000 “members and supporters” today (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, n.d.b), and donations to the organization indicate a similar upward trend (Charity Navigator, 2006). At the same time, the influence of the movement has been felt by animal users, consumers, and the government, and continues to be relevant to this day. From early campaigns leading to a considerable decrease in the numbers of animals used in product testing (Jasper and Nelkin, 1992) and a plummet in sales of fur coats (Singer, 2003), to more recent victories including concessions by McDonald’s, Burger King, and other restaurants regarding their animal welfare policies (Martin, 2007), and a spate of initiatives passed at the state level banning or curtailing particular animal uses (Lubinski, 2003), the U.S. animal rights movement has had an effect on business practices, on the law, and on the nation’s consciousness. Additionally, a minority faction of the movement has engaged in crimes in an effort to bring about animal liberation, resulting in millions of dollars in damage to animal use industries (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2002).
This research explores the response of animal use industries and their supporters to these objective threats. I argue that opponents of the animal rights movement and their surrogates have responded to this growing and persistent threat by engaging in a campaign of claims-making, the goal and/or effect of which is to construct for the public, policy-makers, and other social control authorities an image of the animal rights movement as a social problem as well as a more serious threat necessitating social control. This project therefore combines key ideas from several different literatures, including claims-making, framing, and social movement and countermovement, and is theoretically grounded in the social threat-social control tradition.
I rely on two different sources of claims—one, a sample of items published in the New York Times and the other, a sample of written statements prepared for and presented in Congressional hearings. Claims in these documents were coded and analyzed using a grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).
The project is guided by two different epistemic objectives. First, I examine the nature of the claims put forth by opponents of animal rights and their surrogates. My goal here is not to confirm or debunk the veracity of these claims, but rather, to uncover and understand the kinds of claims serving not only to counter the animal rights movement’s assertions that animal use and abuse is a social problem, but also to construct animal rights as a threat. Second, after analyzing these claims, I offer an assessment of whether, in each sample, such claims-making is consistent with the expectations of social threat-social control theory (Blalock, 1967; Liska, 1992b). Consistent with past research informed by this theory, I expect to find that as the animal rights movement became more threatening to animal users and their supporters, there was a corresponding change in the quantity (e.g., in frequency) and/or quality (e.g., in intensity) of claims made about the movement.
The research findings indicate that both primary and secondary claims-makers utilize a variety of claims, framing processes, and rhetorical strategies so as to support the status quo as it concerns animal use. Furthermore, consistent with the expectations of social threat-social control theory, in general, in both samples, the findings provide support for the idea that, as time passed and the threats by the animal rights movement increased, the number of claims in defense of animal use and claims constructing animal rights as problematic increased. Particularly noteworthy are the findings of increases in claims constructing animal rights as a threat, and indicating that increased criminal control of the movement is necessary.
This research makes several contributions to the literatures it borrows from. First, this study expands conflict theory’s threat hypothesis by extending it to explain the threat and control of a social movement (whereas, traditionally, this theory has been used to explain control of racial minority threat). Second, this study provides qualitative support for the idea that social control is mobilized by claims-making. Third, by demonstrating how opponents engage in claims-making activities for the purpose of constructing a social movement as a threat, this study provides a unique contribution to the social constructionism/claims-making perspective, which has tended not to examine the use of claims to construct a movement as a problem. Finally, this research is timely, in the sense that it helps explain the current focus of social control authorities on animal rights-motivated crimes and acts of “terrorism.”
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