- A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory by Corey Lee Wrenn
In her insightful analysis, Wrenn skillfully makes the case for a rational, scientific approach calling for the elimination of animal [End Page 227] oppression—in Wrenn's words, "vegan abolition"—not just "kinder" oppression. And while others have written thoughtfully and effectively about the strategic and theoretical differences between "welfarist" and "rights" approaches to animal liberation (and the strengths of the latter), Wrenn's analysis stands out for several reasons. First, she insists on a scientific, empirical analysis of the movement's effectiveness—its claims-making and its tactics. Second, she takes a critical sociological approach, drawing effectively from the literature on social movements, bureaucracy, and inequality, to examine the current status of nonhuman animal liberation efforts. And she powerfully argues that a professionalized welfare industry does little to end animal exploitation (and, in fact, likely normalizes it) and is more concerned with fund-raising, the bureaucracy, and animal advocates than the well-being of nonhuman animals.
Further, her critical sociological lens leads Wright to identify and challenge structural and systemic causes of all oppression, not just that of other animals. Embracing an intersectionalist theoretical perspective, Wrenn effectively argues that animal liberationists must fight to end all oppression:
Vegan advocates must extend abolitionist theory to include the interests of all nonhumans, women, people of color, disabled persons, elderly persons, children, homosexual persons, transgender persons, intersex persons and others. That is, all persons, regardless of demographic affiliation, are included in a rationalist, abolitionist ethic.(pp. 180–181)
Included in her critique are the roles of capitalism and religion in creating, reinforcing, and reinventing inequality between human and nonhuman animals, as well as between other human groups.
After an overview of her arguments and a preview of what is to come in Chapter 1, Wrenn begins her analysis by examining the irrationalities of the bureaucratization and professionalization of the animal welfare movement in the second chapter. She artfully applies the sociological writings of Weber—who first warned of the pitfalls of rationality—as well as Ritzer's notion of McDonaldization to her critique. Her sociological analysis reveals how these tendencies toward irrationality have produced a welfare movement that is more focused on the survival of the professional agencies, which includes, among other things, an emphasis on fund-raising and working within "the system," which undermines meaningful social change on behalf of non-human animals. "Nonhuman animal activists have become trapped in the iron cage of nonhuman animal welfare hegemony. Squandering resources with the continued implementation of tactics that do not work or that even worsen the condition of other animals is irrational" (pp. 59–60).
In Chapter 3, Wrenn moves on to assess the tactics used of nonhuman animal advocacy, which she rightfully points out have been subjected to little empirical analysis. The limited research that has been done has been conducted by movement agencies themselves, producing not only a conflict of interest but a lowering of standards based on a welfarist philosophy and the questionable assumption that increased fund-raising means social change. In assessing these tactics, she argues it's important not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," and Wrenn presents ways in which they may be reconceptualized and applied in a vegan abolitionist movement.
The next two chapters take on the issue of institutionalized oppression and inequality within the nonhuman animal advocacy movement, specifically as they relate to gender (Chapter 4) and race (Chapter 5). In Chapter 4, Wrenn claims that a rational [End Page 228] approach must not only be scientific but also feminist. But feminist concerns have been largely left out of the movement, a movement that, although comprised predominantly by females, has historically been led by males. In her critique, Wrenn effectively attacks what she calls "vegan pornography"—the sex objectification of one exploited group, women, in campaigns to liberate another, nonhuman animals. According to Wrenn, "The movement invites society's privileged to...