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Girgen, Jen 2009. Constructing animal rights activism as a social threat: Claims-making in the 'New York Times' and in congressional hearings. Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 69(7): 2885.

Constructing animal rights activism as a social threat: Claims-making in
the 'New York Times' and in congressional hearings
Author   Girgen, Jen.  Affiliation   The Florida State University
Source   Dissertation Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and
Social Sciences, vol. 69, no. 07, pp. 2885, 2009

Since 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. Copies of dissertations
may be obtained by addressing your request to ProQuest, 789 E. Eisenhower
Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346. Telephone
1-800-521-3042; e-mail: disspub@umi.com


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