In 2014, we began to pilot a long-term social movement analysis project. The goal of the project was to supplement our animal advocacy research by compiling information about other social movements. We gradually released four case studies of other movements: the children’s rights movement, the fat activism movement, the environmentalism movement, and the British anti-slavery movement. Each case study was completed by one of our research interns over the course of a (usually three-month) internship, under the supervision of a research staff member. We initially planned to synthesize the findings of our social movement research, but we no longer expect to do that. In fact, while establishing our research priorities for 2018, we made the decision to discontinue our social movement research. We found that the social movement research we’d already conducted was of variable quality, and we do not have the resources to invest further in improving the program.
We still believe that understanding other social movements may be vital for the success of the animal advocacy movement. Especially given the shortage of research and data about the animal advocacy movement, studying other movements may be one of the best ways to figure out how to create social change. However, social movement research needn’t have its own dedicated program at ACE. 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. While a program dedicated solely to social movement studies is potentially quite valuable, it did not seem to be a good fit for ACE.
The Variable Quality of Our Case Studies
In order to take proper advantage of a dedicated social movement research program, we believe that we would have needed to invest more staff time into the program. In particular, we might have needed to hire a new staff member with expertise in social movement research.
Our use of interns for this project resulted in case studies of varying quality, as each intern has different research backgrounds and skills. Moreover, some interns expressed the concern that a three-month, part-time internship was not enough time to complete a satisfactory case study. Additionally, since none of the authors of our case studies were permanent members of our staff, there has been little opportunity for us to revise or update any of the case studies or to build the skills used in writing them over time. Since most of the case studies were written prior to the implementation of our new research review process, we feel that, on the whole, they don’t represent the quality of our more current research.
Social Movement Research Priorities
We established our social movements project with the primary goal of learning about the histories of other movements. We wanted to learn about which strategies have been effective (or ineffective) in different contexts. Some of our case studies explored similarities and differences between the animal advocacy movement and other related movements in an effort to gain insight into what might work in an animal advocacy context.
There are several ways in which we think we could have better approached our social movement research. First, we could have chosen the subjects of our case studies more strategically, possibly by investing more time into our initial planning for the project. In particular, we could have worked harder to identify projects for our interns that would (i) offer useful insights, and (ii) be limited enough in scope that they could be completed in the course of three months. We also believe we should have made better use of existing literature on each movement and consulted a greater number of experts.
One area that we feel we neglected is the relationship between the animal advocacy movement and the other movements we’ve studied. Some of our case studies missed an opportunity to investigate whether (and how) the animal advocacy movement has interacted with other movements and whether those interactions have generally been helpful or harmful. For instance, our Fat Activism case study would have benefitted from a discussion of the interaction between animal advocacy and fat activism, and particularly of the critique that some animal advocacy messages invoke fat shaming or sizeism. In our eagerness to draw lessons from other movements, we neglected to consider our role in building effective coalitions with other movements.
We are aware that some other animal advocates and animal charities are conducting social movement research, and we’re glad to see that! For example, Sentience Institute (a relatively new research organization) recently conducted a case study of the British Antislavery Movement. We hope that more organizations will continue to investigate the relationship between animal advocacy and other movements.
While Animal Charity Evaluators no longer has a program dedicated specifically to social movement research, we will continue our efforts to learn from consonant movements and to build solidarity with them whenever possible. We will do this in the following ways:
- Drawing on empirical research from other movements in our intervention reports
- Speaking with leaders of other movements to support our intervention research
- Tracking social movement research in our research library
- Interviewing activists from other movements as part of our interview series
- Considering ways that the animal advocacy movement can help—or at least avoid harming—other movements (for some provisional ideas of how to do this, see our blog post)
- Exploring ways to participate in social movement partnerships (for example, by establishing dialogues with leaders of other movements and individuals who maintain ties across movements)
We have removed our Social Movement Analysis page from the navigation bar on our website, but the archived content is still available by search to anyone who is interested.