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How animal activist organisations respond to vegan stereotyping

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

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Negative stereotypes of alternative diets such as veganism are common in Australia where a meat-eating culture is normal.

New research demonstrates how a stereotyped framing of veganism is being used to challenge animal activists' work, but also how activists have employed the tactic of not directly contesting the stereotype.

ECU School of Arts and Humanities researcher, Associate Professor Debbie Rodan and Dr Jane Mummery from Federation University, examined the processes of stereotyping and the specific dimensions of vegan stereotyping. Data collected uncovered articles where Animals Australia and animal activism were linked with vegan and vegetarian across the period May 2011–2016.

Dr Rodan and her co-author said the research showed that opponents to animal activist organisations, such as Animals Australia, attempted to undermine activist calls for change by framing them as promoting an un-Australian anti-meat agenda.

“In our analysis, we found four prominent interconnected stereotypes used in both digital and print media to discredit the animal welfare objectives of Animals Australia. Together these cast the organisation as: 1) anti-meat eating 2) anti-farming 3) promoting a vegan agenda and 4) hostile extremists.

“However, despite such framing, Animals Australia generated productive public debate around animal welfare and facilitating the creation of new activist identifications and identities."

Changing the narrative

Drs Rodan and Mummery said rather than refuting the stereotypes, Animals Australia modelled and facilitated symbolic boundary shifting by building broad, emotionally motivated pathways through which Australians were encouraged to refocus their own assumptions regarding animal welfare and animal-human relations.

“The organisation explicitly framed itself as speaking on behalf of not only animals but all caring Australians, offering the possibility of a reframing of Australian national identity.

“Although this tactic doesn’t directly contest the negative stereotyping, it challenges it by calling for all Australians to be proudly a little bit anti-meat-eating (when that meat is from factory farmed animals), a little bit anti-factory farming, a little bit pro vegan, and a little bit proud to consider themselves as caring about animal welfare.”

The study ‘Animals Australia and the Challenges of Vegan Stereotyping’ is published in M/C Journal.

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