Vegan studies is the study, within the humanities and social sciences, of veganism as an identity and ideology, and the exploration of its depiction in literature, the arts, popular culture, and the media.[a][b] In a narrower use of the term, it seeks to establish veganism as a "mode of thinking and writing", a "means of critique", and "a new lens for ecocritical textual analysis". Vegan studies is closely related to critical animal studies.
The period led to the development of human–animal studies (also known as animal studies),[d] the study of how humans and nonhumans interact, how humans have classified other animals, and what that social construction means. It also led, in the early 2000s, to the development of critical animal studies (CAS), an academic field dedicated to studying and ending the exploitation of animals. Named in 2007, CAS grew directly out of the animal liberation movement, linking "activism, academia and animal suffering". Veganism is described as "a baseline for CAS praxis". Criticizing human–animal studies as anthropocentric, and aiming for "total liberation" (including of humans), CAS scholars declared themselves committed to the "abolition of animal and ecological exploitation".[e]
In December 2013, in the journal PhaenEx, media scholar Eva Giraud discussed the relationship of veganism to animal studies, ecofeminism and posthumanism.[f] Academic work on veganism appeared in Nick Taylor and Richard Twine's 2014 collection, The Rise of Critical Animal Studies, and in December that year, Emilia Quinn and Benjamin Westwood addressed a workshop at the University of York, organized by the art historian Jason Edwards, to discuss "the fast developing field of vegan theory".
Quinn and Westwood write that veganism's "entry into the academy" began around 2010. Shortly after the publication that year of her collection Sistah Vegan,A. Breeze Harper announced a new "critical race and veg*n studies intersect" research group on her website, The Sistah Vegan Project, and was working on "applications of critical race and black feminist studies to vegan studies in the US". Also in 2010, the Journal for Critical Animal Studies published an edition devoted to the perspectives of women of color, which had been "eerily absent from critical animal studies and vegan studies in general". They included an essay by Harper, "Race as a 'Feeble Matter' in Veganism".
Vegan studies was proposed as a new academic field by Laura Wright, professor of English at Western Carolina University, in October 2015 in her book The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror, described as the "first major academic monograph in the humanities focused on veganism". Wright's work was prompted by research for her doctoral dissertation into J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999) and The Lives of Animals (1999), and was further influenced by Adams's The Sexual Politics of Meat. Wright frames vegan studies as "inherently ecofeminist", according to Caitlin E. Stobie.[g]
In May 2016 Quinn and Westwood organized a conference at Wolfson College, Oxford, Towards a Vegan Theory, at which Wright gave the keynote address. Other works in vegan studies followed, including a 2016 collection, Critical Perspectives on Veganism, published by Palgrave Macmillan and edited by Jodey Castricano and Rasmus R. Simonsen; a special cluster in the journal ISLE in December 2017; a 2018 collection edited by Quinn and Woodward, Thinking Veganism in Literature and Culture, based on the Oxford conference and also published by Palgrave Macmillan; and a 2019 collection, Through a Vegan Studies Lens: Textual Ethics and Lived Activism, published by University of Nevada Press and edited by Wright.
In 2016 Melanie Joy called vegan studies a field "whose time has come".
In 2016 Melanie Joy and Jens Tuider called vegan studies a "field of research whose time has come". It establishes veganism as an academic topic; gathers research on veganism, the history of veganism, and carnism; examines veganism's ethical, political and cultural basis and repercussions; and explores how vegan identity is presented in literature, the arts, film, popular culture, advertising and the media. Adams wrote that vegan studies examines "the vegan phobic, the vegan deniers, the nonvegan 'vegan', the problematic 'hegan,' the feminist vegan, the animal activist vegan". According to another description, it highlights the "oppositional role played by veganism towards ideologies that legitimate oppression". Writing in 2018, the philosopher Josh Milburn remained unconvinced that there was a literature about veganism "sufficiently unified to be labeled a new discipline".
According to Wright, vegan studies is a "lived and embodied ethic" providing "a new lens for ecocritical textual analysis". Vegan studies scholars examine texts "via an intersectional lens of veganism" to explore the relationship of humans to their food sources and the environment. In Wright's view, the vegan body and vegan identity "constitute a performative project and an entity in a state of perpetual transformation".
Wright offers as an example of a vegan studies analysis a 2018 article by Stobie in ISLE about The Vegetarian by Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize: "Rather than read protagonist Yeong-hye's plight as the result of illogical mental illness, Stobie reads her character's actions—to eschew eating meat to the point of starvation, even when members of her family try to force feed it to her—as a posthumanist performance of vegan praxis dependent upon inarticulable trauma and the desire for intersectional and interspecies connection."
Another example is Sara Salih's account, in Quinn and Westwood's 2018 collection, of "three scenes of failed witness", including when she left a formal lunch in tears when the chicken dish arrived, and when she and others stood staring (pointlessly, she felt at the time) at slaughterhouse workers using electric prods to push pigs off a lorry. Salih argues that there is in fact an ethical purpose to witnessing such acts. The witnessing outside the slaughterhouse was a performative act, an "illegal act un-sanctioning", directed at the workers. At the same time as asking these questions, Salih was feeding standard cat food to seven cats. "Why", she asks Derrida, who wrote about his cat in The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008), "have you chosen to turn towards this animal rather than that one?" She suggests that the scale of suffering makes "[o]ur imaginations baulk"; it seems absurd to understand that "we are in the presence of the dead ... when faced with a scoopful of kibble." Nevertheless she advises: "Look as closely as you can at your bowl or the neighbour's bowl or the cat's bowl, bear witness, and then decide whether the current norms of logic or rationality possess any moral validity."
Relationship with animal studies
Almiron, Cole and Freeman write that vegan studies and critical animal studies (CAS) share common roots as "related branches in the evolution of critical approaches to human domination".[h] Wright views vegan studies as "informed by and divergent from" animal studies, including critical animal studies. According to Larue, vegan studies is "both narrower and broader than animal studies". It intersects with critical animal studies but encompasses fields such as environmental studies and nutrition, which play an important role in the way veganism has been perceived, promoted, or criticized in the last few decades and today."[b]
According to Alex Lockwood of the University of Sunderland, vegan studies offers a "radical and more coherent way of ensuring the present experiences of all beings are taken into account when examining the ways in which discourse shapes power". It "engages a lived politics" of empathy and care, as Wright describes it.
^Núria Almiron, Matthew Cole, and Carrie P. Freeman (European Journal of Communication, 1 August 2018): "The term 'vegan studies' highlights the oppositional role played by veganism towards ideologies that legitimate oppression and therefore also the ways in which veganism itself may be marginalized, misrepresented or distorted in and by the media."
^ abRenan Larue (2019): "Vegan studies is an emerging field of research, which is about understanding the vegan phenomenon, from its first manifestations until the present time, and explores what is at stake with it theologically, morally, anthropologically, socially, or psychologically."Vegan studies constitutes a realm both narrower and broader than animal studies. Narrower, because it focuses on the way human beings behave towards animals, in particular those we fish, hunt, breed, use, slaughter, and eat (in that sense, vegan studies intersect partly with critical animal studies). Broader, because vegan studies encompasses other fields, namely environmental studies and nutrition, which play an important role in the way veganism has been perceived, promoted, or criticized in the last few decades and today."
^Joshua Abram Kercsmar (The Journal of American History, March 2017): "The environmental concerns that have rippled through academe since the 1970s prompted scholars to consider human-animal relationships from a variety of perspectives. Texts such as Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975), Carolyn Merchant's The Death of Nature (1980), and Tom Regan's The Case for Animal Rights (1983) marked the start of an 'animal turn' that infiltrated the humanities and social sciences and drew heavily on feminist and Marxist theories."
Margo DeMello (Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies, 2012): "The publication of two major philosophical works on animals—Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975), followed by Tom Regan's The Case for Animal Rights (1983)—led to an explosion of interest in animals among academic, animal advocates, and the general public. We can see that the rise of HAS [human–animal studies] in academia, especially over the last decade, is related directly to the philosophical debate regarding animals as worthy of ethical inquiry."
Philip Armstrong and Laurence Simmons (Knowing Animals, 2007): "Every so often there emerges a new intellectual paradigm that provokes a flurry of new knowledge. Over the last two decades the humanities and social sciences have been experiencing such an event: the 'animal turn', comparable in significance to the 'linguistic turn' that revolutionized humanities and social science disciplines from the mid-twentieth century onwards. ... We owe the phrase 'animal turn' to Sarah Franklin, who used it in conversation during the annual conference of the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia, in December 2003 ..."
Harriet Ritvo (Daedalus, Fall 2007): "[D]uring the last several decades, animals have emerged as a more frequent form of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, as quantified in published books and articles, conference presentations, new societies, and new journals. With this change in degree has come a potential change in kind. As it has expanded the range of possible research topics in a number of disciplines, the animal turn has also suggested new relationships between scholars and their subjects, and new understandings of the role of animals in the past and at present."
^Lori Gruen (Critical Terms for Animal Studies, 2018): "When scholars first began describing their work as Animal Studies, there was occasionally confusion—some people, including many scientists, thought that meant scholars were working directly with animals, for example, in laboratories or in the wild. This led some scholars to adopt the name Human–Animal Studies (HAS) and emphasize the relationships that the field was devoted to examining, understanding, and critically evaluating."
Margo DeMello (Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human–Animal Studies, 2012): "Human-animal studies (HAS), sometimes known as anthrozoology or animal studies, is an interdiscipinary field that explores the spaces that animals occupy in human social and cultural worlds, and the interactions humans have with them."
Cary Wolfe (What is Posthumanism?, 2010): "What began in the early to mid-1990s as a smattering of work in various fields on human–animal relations and their representation in various endeavors—literary, artistic, scientific—has, as we reach the end of the new millenium's first decade, galvanized into a vibrant emergent field of interdisplinary inquiry called animal studies or sometime human–animal studies."
^The Institute for Critical Animal Studies defines critical animal studies (CAS) as "the academic field of study dedicated to the abolition of animal and ecological exploitation, oppression, and domination. CAS is grounded in a broad, global, emancipatory, inclusionary movement for total liberation and freedom."
^"Veganism is becoming a prominent area of focus in contemporary cultural theory because debates about vegan praxis have emerged as a sub-field of animal studies that crystallises tensions between CAS and posthumanist-inflected 'mainstream' animal studies. By grounding itself in notions of the inviolable rights of animals ... veganism seems to be underpinned by the humanist ethical frameworks that mainstream animal studies is moving away from in its turn to posthumanism."
^Peter Adkins, Humanities, 4 July 2017: "Not always harmonious with this 'animal turn' in philosophy and literature has been the emergence of what Laura Wright outlines as the 'activist, theoretical mode' of feminist vegan studies (Wright 2015, p. 16). A body of cultural criticism that attends to what Carol J. Adams identifies as the 'overt associations between meat eating and virile maleness,' vegan studies implores critics to not only attend to cultural representations of animal bodies but the 'patriarchal attitudes' encoded in such representations (Adams 2010, pp. 25–26). ... Vegan studies, in both Wright’s and Adams’s terms, would extend the consciousness-raising impetus of everyday animal ethics to a critical practice that focuses on animal suffering and commodification. While theorists associated with the 'animal turn', such as Donna J. Haraway, have warned that veganism runs the risk of insisting on absolutist moral code that would constitute a restrictive 'Feminist Doxa' (Haraway 2008, p. 80), Wright's work insists on a definition of veganism in which it is understood that there is no 'singular reason' for veganism and no 'singular representative vegan body' but rather a plurality of cultural and dietary motives and practices (Wright 2015, p. 8). Despite points of difference, both critical vegan studies and animal philosophy are predicated on reappraising how embodiment, materiality, and language, structure human and animal relations."
^Núria Almiron, Matthew Cole, and Carrie P. Freeman (European Journal of Communication, 1 August 2018): "The multidisciplinary tenor of vegan studies is shared with the prior emergence of one of the most important critical projects of recent years: CAS [critical animal studies]. Indeed, vegan studies and CAS share common roots in many respects (with veganism as a baseline for CAS praxis) and may best be understood as related branches in the evolution of critical approaches to human domination, with, we argue, CAMS [critical animal media studies] as another branch to be acknowledged alongside them."
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