Unlike their British and North American equivalents, French groups supporting animal rights1 – especially contemporary forms such as anti-speciesism2 – have always come up against significant challenges in gathering support for their claims when speaking out in the name of the cause. Although the lines have been shifting recently, campaigning for animals in France remains a difficult task involving a lack of understanding on the part of those close to activists who take on alternative consumption choices such as veganism3 and the incredulity of a public which knows little about the cause. This leads to a high turnover of members within organizations, as well as a tendency towards reflexivity on activist practices – a tendency reflected in the annual Estivales de la question animale, an animal rights forum held for ten days each summer where activists and thinkers converge to discuss the state of the movement (Traïni 2010, 2012). In the past ten years or so, the French animal rights activism space has been the main forum for the sporadic emergence of controversial labels and slogans resulting from a desire to politicize the cause, and created in part with reference to the negative experiences of those who claim to speak on behalf of animals. This is the case for the term “vegephobia,” a neologism created out of analogy with the term “homophobia,” and which refers to all offences committed against vegetarians and vegans. It also denotes any discrimination that is the expression of society’s speciesist position – of a multidimensional domination of which the first victims are animals exploited for their flesh, skins, or physical attributes. This article proposes to reflect on the development of the notion of vegephobia, the conditions enabling its structuring, and the current difficulties for its legitimization within the animal rights movement (Ebel & Fiala 1983; Krieg-Planque 2009). The perspective adopted here is at the interface between the social history of political ideas and trends of analysis of social movements and political parties as cultural enterprises (Gusfield 1994; Sawicki 2001; Skornicki & Tournadre 2015). By following the trajectory of this symbolic innovation, from its production to its reception by activists, the aim is to expose the mechanisms used by minority activist groups who attempt to reverse the stigma, politicizing the difficulties they face, and legitimizing their attempts to speak out in the public space (Cherry 2010; Belorgey, Chateigner, Hauchecorne, Pénissat 2011).
An ethnographic approach was chosen in order to do this. An effort to survey and study books, journal articles, and leaflets produced by anti-speciesists was combined with interviews and the observation of events and of the communities in which the movement strives to disseminate its concepts (Hauchecorne 2012). From 2007 to 2012, within the framework of a master’s dissertation and then a thesis, more than seventy semi-structured interviews were conducted with agents involved with this cause. The interviewees were intellectuals and leaders of the movement from “simple” activists to those involved on several levels – regular attendants at information stalls and street demonstrations in support of veganism or banning experiments on animals, volunteers at animal shelters, or those who sometimes take part in hunt sabotages. The ethnographic observations also took place in varied situations: at Veggie Pride;4 at an illegal demonstration outside the Paris International Agricultural Show calling for the abolition of meat; happenings and protests in front of airline companies or pharmaceutical laboratories; at the Estivales de la question animale; at informal meetings of local associations; and at national meetings, conferences, and screenings organized by activist groups. This field study, facilitated by a conversion to vegetarianism at the start of the research, allowed the researcher to observe active attempts at spreading the notion of vegephobia within the French animal rights movement.
We will begin by considering the origins of the contemporary animal liberation movement in Great Britain and the United States. Next we will consider the difficulties encountered by these groups’ French importers in establishing this social movement. The dissatisfaction felt by these importers and the successive failures to circulate their framework within various social spaces partly determined the development of a label such as vegephobia and, more generally, the adjustments they made during the 1990s and 2000s.
Anti-speciesism and Animal Liberation: The Beginnings of a Radical Movement for Animals’ Political Representation in the UK and the US
We must first go back to the emergence in the 1970s in Great Britain and the United States of the “animal liberation” social movement. There are two reasons for making this detour. The first stems from the fact that the problems facing contemporary French animal rights activism can be measured against the success of its British and American counterparts: it is an importation thwarted in its ideas, slogans, and strategies. This divergence is partly behind the persistent discontent of animal rights advocates in France. It is experiences and impressions that fuel the formalization of vegephobia. The second reason lies in what the affirmation of the animal liberation movement in the UK and the US and the development of a concept such as speciesism also indicate about a form of politicization of current activist discontent. This has certainly weighed on recent anti-speciesist activity in France to mobilize vegetarians against the discrimination they arguably suffer on a daily basis.
In the 1960s and 1970s, British animal rights organizations saw a sharp increase in the number of activists; they were often young, from urban working- and lower-middle-class backgrounds. This large-scale influx contributed to an increase in tension between a renewed activist base – which willingly supported direct action – and the more moderate leaders of these organizations. At that time, there was a predominance of groups who voiced sectoral criticism of animal exploitation, focusing on specific categories of animal or on practices deemed unacceptable because of their cruelty or suffering caused (animal experiments, hunting, dog fighting, and abuse of animals in factory farms, for instance). The formation and set-up of the proponent for animal rights was also affected by a certain “scientification” dynamic (Fabiani 1985; Habermas 1990). Animal welfare experts and researchers from disciplines such as ethology which experienced rapid growth in the UK (Burkhardt 2005; Chavot 1994) circulated and enforced technical standards for the management of animal suffering in exploitation (Wilson 2012; Woods 2002). These developments led to an increase in the cost of speaking out for animals and a relegation of the least-endowed activists and the newest entrants at the sidelines of the movement. Splits ensued, and groups formed that developed innovative methods of action such as hunt sabotage and the destruction of exploitation equipment. Consensus was established within these groupings to adopt a vegetarian diet, and links to organizations for food reform were built. These were signs of a shift in the tenets of the British animal rights movement (Carrié 2017). It was in this context, within the student population and the militant vegetarian groups of Oxford that the concept of speciesism emerged, as a systemic criticism of all forms of animal exploitation, which formed the basis of the animal liberation movement.
We cannot, however, understand the success of slogans such as anti-speciesism without considering the spread of these ideas to the US. It through the work of people such as Peter Singer, who facilitated the exchange of ideas, that these symbolic goods were transmitted beyond the limits of the Oxford microcosm. The Australian intellectual moved to Oxford with his wife in 1969 to study for his doctorate in philosophy (Singer 1975). It was through a conversation with vegetarian activists that the couple, who were pacifists opposed to the Vietnam War, discovered animal issues, deciding there and then to adopt a vegetarian diet and commit to this cause. However, it was not until 1973 that Singer would translate his interest in these themes into an academic project. When working as a New York University lecturer, he published a critical article in the New York Review of Books entitled “Animal Liberation” (Singer 1973). The significant impact in the New York intellectual and press spheres of this text which was presented as the manifesto of a new egalitarian movement (Singer 1998) encouraged Singer to publish an eponymous book two years later, which was a synthesis of the work he had begun on the issue since his time at Oxford. Animal Liberation was first written with a “lay” readership and activists in mind, and its success – a wide distribution on both sides of the Atlantic – enshrined Peter Singer as the major intellectual figure of the cause, or even the founding father of a new social movement, animal liberation.
The social success of Singer’s productions can partly be explained by the formal qualities of the synthesis he proposed, which referred to the distinctions of his own habitus, cleaved between his activist ethos and his involvement in the intellectual field. Claiming a position of preference utilitarianism and proximity to figures such as Jeremy Bentham, Singer followed in the wake of young doctors of philosophy who, when faced with the analytical trend that had become dominant in the American philosophical field since the end of the war (Hauchecorne & Pudal 2016), strived to rehabilitate the prescriptive and normative trends of British and American philosophy. Influenced by social movements of the time, they focused on issues not previously addressed by moral philosophy. The claims made by the feminist, pacifist, and environmentalist movements were, for them, entry points for the rehabilitation of a philosophical practice focused on the concrete aspect of ethical questions. This new generation was to bring the prescriptive tradition of moral philosophy of the English-speaking world “up to date,” formulating the precepts of applied ethics (Singer 2006). Building on, in particular, developments in science, the aim was to justify a philosophy that was rooted in reality, which could help people make good moral choices in a society viewed as increasingly complex (Rorty 2008). Singer’s stances on animal issues were in line with these authors’ works (Singer 1986). The denunciation of the treatment of domestic animals in contemporary societies affirmed his position as a moral prescriber, able to reveal injustices and define legitimate attitudes to adopt in our relationships with animals. Arguing from the basis of recent discoveries in primatology and ethology on the behaviour of animals and their expression of emotions, and on work carried out in neurology on mechanisms of pain, the author defends the idea of a sentient experience common to humans and animals. It is in terms of this shared sensitivity that the morality of exploitation methods must be considered. Here Singer adapted the theoretical model of Richard Mervyn Hare, which postulates that the morality of a statement is judged by its universality, in such a way that every individual can recognize themselves as subject to this (Hare 1962; Singer 2002). The first chapters of Animal Liberation, which depict forms of contemporary intensive farming and animal experimentation and the suffering they cause, are thereby invitations to the reader to project him or herself into the sentient experience of animals. In this way, Singer wishes to demonstrate the impossible universalization of the treatment they suffer and therefore its immorality. By using the legitimacy of scientific knowledge produced about animals and their behaviours to his advantage, he was able to claim moral leadership on animal issues. This leadership questioned the monopoly of life scientists and experts in the science of animal well-being on legitimately speaking about animals. He contrasted the dominant trend of an increasingly distanced management of domestic animals with the principle of a committed, systemic political criticism partly derived from the protest movements of the time.
Singer took advantage of his exchanges with British activists to systematize the representation of the animal rights movement using concepts such as “animal liberation” and “speciesism” as part of a continuation of progressive movements of the period. In a context perceived as characterized by widespread loss of impetus in social struggles (Granjon 1985), his comparisons and appeals to fellow committed activists of pacifist and minority movements cannot only be understood in terms of their supposed rhetorical effectiveness and tactics against the competing current intellectual trends. The recurrent leitmotiv in his writing of a decline of struggles shows the extent to which his formalization of the “animalist” ideology – beyond only the issues of the conflicts of the intellectual field – was conditioned by concerns linked to his own activist trajectory. For Singer, it was as though his involvement with the animal cause was considered a way of reconciling militant dispositions and academic activity.
While we should not over-emphasize the influence of his writings on the evolution of the movement in the US, nor should we deny him a performative role as an intellectual. The continual inducements to actors involved in the counter-culture movement helped promote a form of reinvestment of the militant ethos into the animal rights cause, and more specifically into local activist and militant groups at a time when the protest movement was receding, giving rise to a multiplicity of regionally based groups. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of the reconversions that the reception of Singer’s writings generated. It was undoubtedly modest, first of all in light of the number of agents genuinely committed· to the protest movement, and also as a result of the multiplicity of struggles with which activists would go on to engage (MacAdam 1989). Nevertheless, the few known cases of conversion – for example that of Henry Spira, a former Trotskyist activist involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and on track for disengagement in the 1970s, who found in the animal liberation movement a new cause to invest in (Munro 2002) – certainly had an effect on animal rights groups. These actors brought with them knowledge acquired from protests, which helped to diversify the tactical repertoire of the most radical groups, strengthening the distinctions of these groups vis-à-vis organizations more traditionally devoted to preventing violence against animals. The echo of these developments and the success of the campaigns carried out in the US encouraged the return in the UK of anti-speciesist discourse and animal liberation slogans, and then their dissemination throughout the English-speaking world.
The “double hit” achieved by Singer refers in broad terms to the specific nature of the US academic field and to its interlinking relations with the activist space. This reveals a dynamic of self-reinforcement characteristic of such a “double hit”: the recognition for Singer’s work in the academic field, followed by the recognition for thinkers in the sphere of animal ethics, favoured the appropriation of animal liberation and anti-speciesist labels by activists, who in return helped raise the issue’s importance in the public arena. Ultimately, Singer initiated a genuine turnaround in the configurations of animal advocacy groups in the US and the UK in the mid-1970s. Systemic criticism of the exploitation of animals, which had until then been marginal, was increasingly enforced over the previously dominant sectoral criticism, thus causing a shift in values within these battlegrounds (Bourdieu 2013).
The success of Singer’s project as well as the conversion of activists such as Spira in this nascent movement can also partly be explained by the early adoption in Great Britain and English-speaking countries of the idea of the political representation of animals. The successive dynamics since the end of the eighteenth century of production, diffusion, and institutionalization of various forms of animal advocacy (animal protection, anti-vivisectionism, humanitarianism, and so on) helped to legitimize the principle of a political delegation for the interests of these voiceless creatures, and to impose for the long term the idea of a “lay” and alternative animal representation as opposed to the monopoly of life scientists’ right to speak about anything related to nature (Carrié 2015a). This enabled the mission of proponents of animal ethics, who henceforth found the first signs of their systemic criticism of animal exploitation in the writings of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century activists. The substantial resources mobilized by these agents along with the peculiarities of the national configurations they belonged to, were both conditions of the social success of the concepts that they produced and of the collective anti-speciesist mobilization which gained momentum from that point in the US and the UK. This was not at all the case when it came to the importation to France.
The transfers that took place happened thanks to a small group of activists in Lyon with close ties to anarchist, environmentalist, and alternative circles (Dubreuil 2013). These intellectuals and spokespeople for squats and militant groups from the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood were generally from local bourgeois backgrounds (primarily families of teachers of secondary and higher education). They discovered a cause to develop in the animal liberation movement. Rejecting what they inherited from their parents, they entered the public arena and the intellectual field via alternative routes, the anti-speciesist involvement thus constituting one way of standing out and affirming heterodox intellectual positions.5 Their resources – in particular a large amount of cultural capital – allowed them to assert themselves as the main proponents of these concepts at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Added to this were the transnational socialization and the French-English bilingualism of one among them, David Olivier, who played a central role in this group of ideological importers.6 Thus explains Yves Bonnardel, another founding member of the group:
David was first to discover Animal Liberation in English before it had been published in French. Being bilingual, he had easy access to English-language material, which was not the case for me; and I also came from an antisocial and anti-moral individualist ideology in the vein of Max Stirner. This meant that I was incredibly reticent regarding any moral approach [...], whereas David was already [...] part of this way of thinking. So it was [...] David who was pulling in this direction and [...] it took me years to come round to this approach. I’d say it was really David who introduced moral politics into France.7
The creation at the start of the 1990s of Les Cahiers antispécistes journal, comprising translations of and interviews with the leading figures of the revived radical animal rights movement (Karcher, Olivier, Vidal 1992), allowed them to assert over other groups their definition of the notion of anti-speciesism, which was close to that developed by Singer (Bonnardel 1992; Olivier 1993). The movement against animal exploitation was linked to struggles against sexist and racist discrimination. The French anti-speciesists thus presented themselves as instigators of a new egalitarian movement which took all power relations into account. They therefore quickly distinguished themselves from the Parisian group formed at the same time, Action information pour les droits des animaux (AIDA), which promoted apolitical anti-speciesism with a strict focus on the issue of animal exploitation:
At the time we said about AIDA, “Oh, they’re more or less on the same wavelength.” They wanted to form a group in Paris along these lines, so we decided to support them. And then little by little we realized that they were saying lots of horrible things behind our backs – that we were leftists. Perhaps we were leftists then [...], but we had the right to defend our position. That’s to say that if we wish the term animal to no longer be discriminatory, and we consider that what matters is being sentient beings, then humans are animals too, and what happens to humans also matters to us. [...] And so human politics also matter to us.8
It was not therefore primarily to existing French animal rights organizations that the importers turned to spread the idea of animal liberation. Animal activist circles in fact displayed characteristics that were as much obstacles to the spread of these concepts: weak or even non-existent systemic criticism and radical traditions of the defence of animals (anti-vivisectionist leagues which had disappeared at the beginning of the twentieth century, did not reappear until the end of the 1950s, and again only when prompted by foreign organizations such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection [Duranton de Magny 1980: 5]); focus of the main associations such as the Société protectrice des animaux (SPA)9 on pets and the management of refuges for stray animals;10 and weak generational renewal of groups. French organizations in support of animals essentially held industry-based criticisms of the exploitation of animals, and based their actions on moral values of goodness and charity, and on the condemnation of cruelty, and individual mistreatment. Furthermore, they had no relationship with associations that promoted vegetarianism, which at that time in France exclusively focused on health issues, scarcely dealing with “animal issues” (Ouédraogo 1994). The few attempts at promotion of the heterodox considerations raised by the anti-speciesists, and in particular the principle of vegetarianism as a means of boycotting products derived from animal exploitation for meat, henceforth met with incomprehension and hostility from the representatives of the French established groups for animal protection. As Yves Bonnardel explains again, remembering the early days of his engagement.
When we started, there was perhaps one per cent of those involved in animal protection who were vegetarian. It was crazy, there was no one [...], we were insulted and threatened [...]. I remember one of the heads of the association [...] who would say: “Go and talk about vegetarianism to my sons – you could either walk out the door or be thrown out the window.” They said: “People can eat what they want; we’re fighting for animals.” 11
After the example of Paola Cavalieri, a journalist who helped spread the word about the animal liberation movement in Italy via the Etica & Animali magazine, French anti-speciesists countered the “sentimentality” of animal protection with the rationality and the seriousness of English-speaking philosophers working in the realm of animal ethics. However, unlike Cavalieri, they did not focus their efforts and work as importers exclusively on the academic sphere. These intellectuals, who were on the fringes of such spaces, as well as being committed to libertarian groups, were also drawn towards activist groups. They tried, to a certain extent, to reproduce Peter Singer’s “double hit” in France – in terms of targeting both the social movement of the time and the intellectual and academic spheres:
We weren’t keen on this division between humans whose vocation in life was to think and then other humans whose vocation was to consume soap operas. And so we tried to create a synthesis between the two things. Les Cahiers antispécistes was born out of that, [...] out of the idea of doing something similar to what Paola’s magazine had done in Milan – ie, translate the texts of the US/UK debate. So we wanted to do that to try to begin to spread [these texts], including in academic philosophical circles; since they were philosophical texts, we didn’t see why they wouldn’t be received in France as philosophical texts. And then at the same time we wanted to do something at the activist level, [...] putting up posters, distributing leaflets, and having a debate that did not completely go against our core values – anti-racism, anti-sexism, things against discrimination, in other words issues of equality.12
Henceforth attempts to transfer the principles of the animal liberation movement were made primarily towards the microcosm of squats and the anarchist movement, but also towards the academic field.
The outcome of this circulation was mixed. In the academic field and the space where philosophical productions are in competition, anti-speciesist activists met with considerable resistance. This had multiple origins, and was linked to the specific nature of the positions held by the detractors of anti-speciesism. Thus, for example, Luc Ferry’s criticism in Le Nouvel Ordre écologique (1992) can be seen as an extension of the texts he wrote with Alain Renaut in the 1980s denouncing both academic orthodoxy and what they dubbed “anti-humanist” reasoning. For Ferry, anti-speciesism had its foundations in the spirit of 1968 as well as in a “pathos” specific to the 1930s, and was a rebuttal of universalism. It called into question the exclusivity of the human condition and the continuing relevance of humanism, of which Ferry was something of a champion. Ferry’s challenge of contemporary forms of the animal rights cause and also of certain ecological trends was therefore largely structured by the local struggles he was involved in. Other mechanisms explained the rejection of anti-speciesist ideas by academics such as Jacques Derrida and Elisabeth de Fontenay. While they both wrote about the “animal cause” and questioned the status of animals and the relations that humans forge with them, they also both criticized the American and British trend of animal ethics and activist groups who based their actions on it (Derrida 2006; Fontenay [de] 2008). Behind this unfavourable reception lay an updated version of the battle between analytical philosophy of the English-speaking world – whose intellectual leaning manifested itself in proponents of applied ethics such as Singer – and the trend of Derridean deconstruction linked in contrast to a rejection of all forms of logocentrism, including that defining relationships to animals (Fontenay [de] 2013; Lamont 1987).
The various forms of attack against anti-speciesism from the intellectual field were perceived by the importers positioned on the margins of this space as a huge and unanimous rejection of anti-speciesism. This becomes all the more apparent if we consider the form and content of the positions taken. As common as protectionist reflexes in the dynamics of intellectual import and export are (Bourdieu 2002), the vehemence of the critical stands expressed from various positions within the intellectual field was particularly pronounced in this case. Discriminating efforts to brand the animal liberation movement as anti-humanist or even crypto-fascist in character, elucidate these logics of opposition. In contrast to countries of the English-speaking world, where the idea of a “lay” position in support of animals as an alternative criticism to scientific discourse and knowledge had been legitimized since the end of the nineteenth century, the principle of a political representation of animals had not up until that point taken hold in the public space in France (Carrié 2015b). The otherness of the anti-speciesist importers’ ideas indeed partly explains the strength of the opposition of a great many writers to the importation of this movement and its slogans, which were seen as incompatible with the strict uniqueness of the human race which, since the end of the Second World War, had become a cardinal principle (Stoczkowski 1999). The importers’ attempts in the field to spread the radical tenets of animal ethics theorists were thus persistently thwarted. Although the anti-speciesists periodically replied via the Cahiers or in works published by the Tahin Party publishing house – on which Yves Bonnardel collaborated (Hardouin-Fugier, Reus, Olivier 2002) – they never had enough resources to make their dissonant voices heard in the academic space.
The change of direction towards the extreme left was scarcely more successful, even though many groups had formed at a local level within the anarchist movement at the beginning of the 1990s. Likewise, publishing initiatives had emerged that incorporated these new elements of the struggle. But, from the middle of the decade, the strength of anti-vivisectionist ideas dwindled. This disengagement can be explained above all by hostility influenced by a libertarian “orthodoxy” and, even more so, by members of the Anarchist Federation. While the latter accepted the vegetarian and naturist13 traditions developed in French anarchist circles beginning in the early twentieth century (Baubérot 2013; Bochet 1993), they rejected a trend they judged to be too close to utilitarianism – a school of thought perceived as an expression of political and economic liberalism (Colson 2001). The legitimization of the anti-speciesist precepts was also complicated by the time lag between the point of their intellectual formalization in the 1970s and the attempts at their transfer to France during the 1990s. The anti-speciesist group, which relied on, among other things, the seminal texts of Singer that they had helped to translate,14 also suffered on account of his controversial reputation. Although in 1975 Peter Singer was nothing more than a little-known newcomer in the academic space, he had since produced a great deal of material, not only on animal rights but also in the domain of bioethics, where his views sparked significant controversy. Keen to promote his ideas of a utilitarianism based on the maximization of preferences, he defended the necessity of non-voluntary euthanasia of newborns, children, and the disabled and ill in cases where the sum of suffering for the individual and those around them outweighs their happiness (Singer 1996). Singer’s intellectual career and his involvement in the public space in the 1990s henceforth affected the reception of animal liberation and anti-speciesism, even though the French importers did not back his views on these issues. Seen as proponents of a form of eugenics, they met with strong opposition on the part of certain antifascist and anarchist groups. The climax of these tensions was the occasion of the Deuxième rencontre intergalactique – an event held in Spain in the summer of 1997. A delegation of French anti-speciesists who had come to put forward a motion on animal rights was challenged by anti-fascist groups who objected to the presence of Singer’s texts on their stand. A heated exchanged ensued, and the hostility of the organizing team and the majority of the public eventually led to the exclusion of the anti-speciesists:
Behind the platform we were scarcely kept informed by the organization. We weren’t protected from Andreas’group two metres away, one of whose members had started physically attacking one of us. We were afraid, we were all in tears or on edge. They called us fascists and denied any opportunity to respond – a crowd turned against us and was ready to lynch us. (La manipulation verbale 1998)
This incident, one of several that occurred in the same period,15 signalled the gradual closure of the libertarian milieux and the radical left towards the ideas of these importers. Peter Singer’s successful double-hit in the US and the UK proved impossible to reproduce here. Outsiders with limited resources who were part of a national context in which the political representation of animals was an alien concept, the anti-speciesists failed to enforce equivalent positions as critical animal advocates, at the intersection of the political and the academic field. These successive failures and the many difficulties that the transfer attempts triggered were just as formative with regard to the notion of vegephobia. Over the long term of their trajectories as importers, these activists emerged convinced that they had suffered an oppression as a result of their fight against the exploitation of animals.
Politicizing Discontent and Representing the Representatives: The Creation of Vegephobia and Veggie Pride
The production of the notion of vegephobia and its application within animal rights campaigning in the form of an annual Veggie Pride demonstration cannot be reduced to a mechanical response of anti-speciesists to the resistance towards their importation attempts. While it is true that the spaces in which they had been trying to spread their ideas were closing, and that many supporters were disengaging from the cause, some of the intellectuals leading these transfers developed the foundations of a moral crusade on behalf of vegetarian victims of the prevailing speciesism because their options were changing. Viewed from this perspective, the concepts of vegephobia and veggie pride can also be understood as manifestations of an adjustment to configurations that were partially redefined in the period.
Indeed, significant upheaval within French animal protection emerged at the end of the 1990s. These transformations were essentially due to the generational renewal of members of these groups, and to the creation of organizations such as One Voice16 or Welfarm-PMAF,17 which opened up new fronts such as the issue of the exploitation of livestock, and were directly inspired by the campaigns of US and UK groups. The animal rights cause also saw an influx of activists from the middle and lower cultural bourgeoisie (Dubreuil 2013), who were often advocates of vegetarianism, and much more familiar with contemporary developments in animal rights in English-speaking countries than their elders, owing to both the introduction into France of branches of the leading US organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at the time, and the development of the internet and transnational activist resources and campaigns. These new militants constituted a privileged and receptive public for the still-active pioneers of French anti-speciesism. The latter then partly redirected their activities towards this renewed activist space. This was true for the creation in 2001 of Veggie Pride, the demonstration for pride in being vegetarian, which was an ideal means of unifying activists who were far apart, but whose number was increasing at the time:
Veggie Pride appealed on the one hand to people from all over, and on the other hand to people from the animal rights camp. Without realizing it, an underlying change within the animal rights milieu had occurred. Gradually, vegetarians grew in importance, as did the anti-speciesists. Without realising, since we had not tried to fight [...]. And in fact [...], at the beginning of the 2000s or end of the 1990s, we realised that Alliance végétarienne was full of anti-speciesists, or people who were discovering anti-speciesism, beginning with its president. But it was the same for animal rights organizations: PMAF is anti-speciesist, One Voice is anti-speciesist. New associations were supported by anti-speciesists although they did not promote anti-speciesist policies.18
The convergence of this evolution and the closure of the spaces that the transfer of the animal liberation movement slogans had first targeted were decisive in the formation of the notion of vegephobia by these actors. The many setbacks suffered over the course of their frustrated role as importers thus weighed heavily on the adjustments they then made. The obstacles that they had faced since the end of the 1980s led to the adoption of oblique strategies and the implementation of conceptual solutions. Unlike in the US and the UK, where the idea of a critical advocacy for animals was accepted, the difficulties in gaining recognition in France as legitimate representatives brought about a partial attempt at redefinition of the idea of representation. The notion of vegephobia developed in the same way at the start of the 2000s, and likewise the ideas formed, thanks to Veggie Pride, of a representation of the representatives – these vegetarians for animal rights – who suffer a specific form of discrimination:
A demonstration to demand our right to full social recognition and full freedom of expression as people who are in solidarity with animals, and therefore do not eat them, and do not believe that anyone should eat them. A two-pronged approach, in essence: Veggie Pride does not demand an end to eating meat, but rather the power to demand this [...]. This may appear a subtle distinction, but I think it’s essential. It’s a bit like the difference between sharing someone’s ideas and defending their right to express them. This distinction is recognized in principle in our democratic societies. We can now, in the name of the same principles of democracy and human rights, demand not that all must conform to our ideas, but that our right to express them openly be fully acknowledged, and that they be taken seriously and not pushed aside and maligned from the outset. (Olivier 2001)
Figure 1. Veggie Pride Demonstration, Paris, 2008
© Akhram, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0 (source: Wikimedia, published may 17, 2008).
But they needed to give this notion of vegephobia consistency and flesh – to encourage vegetarians who suffer it to speak out. To do this, the initiators of these new ideas began the task of collecting testimonies gleaned from participants of Veggie Pride or from vegetarian and/or vegan discussion sites and forums.19 Harassment from relatives when they find out about a diet, public stigma surrounding consumption practices, and the enactment of decrees forbidding vegetarian and vegan meals in mass catering20 are all types of systematic behaviour and representations the activists seek to expose. The thick booklet entitled La Végéphobie ou le rejet du végétarisme pour les animaux et la discrimination des personnes végétariennes (Vegephobia or the Rejection of Vegetarianism for Animals and the Discrimination of Vegetarians), published in 2011 as part of a campaign led by Yves Bonnardel among others to promote the concept, listed different expressions of vegephobia: mockery (denying the possibility of vegetarianism or praising the taste of meat, for example); denial (particularly of the possibility of adopting a vegetarian diet); discrimination by doctors and as a result of French public health policies; or difficulties encountered by vegetarian parents regarding acceptance by the national education system and the authorities of their family’s dietary choices (Bonnardel, Fergé, Olivier 2011).
While it is not up to us to decide on the reality of this form of stigmatization, the fact remains that vegephobia is underpinned, according to its proponents, by the experiences of those French pioneers and importers of anti-speciesism who are still involved. The notion gave meaning to the resistance encountered in their activity as importers: this resistance appeared to be manifestations of vegephobia and of a latent form of defence of speciesism, of which they themselves soon became indirect victims.
If we say that we want animal rights to be taken into account, we’re accused of being anti-human, [...] disciples of Hitler because Hitler treated the Jews like animals. [...] And that, in my opinion, is a reactive response. [...] People understand that animal rights call many things into question on an ideological, cultural, and economic level [...]. And people are afraid of that and so force themselves to be ultra-reactionary. [...] We’re meddling in problems that are complex, which people have tried to ignore so as to not have to talk about them. Because talking about them calls into question this kind of extremely artificial identification of “we’re the goodies and they’re the baddies.” [...] Since we’re questioning the divide between humans and animals, people [...] say we’re like Nazis, because the Nazis treated humans like animals. So people react very strongly to that, because they feel very uncertain themselves.21
Vegephobia finally gives extra coherence to activist careers which are marked by ruptures and readjustments (Bourdieu 1986). For yesterday’s dominated intellectuals – the unfortunate promoters of a heterodox school of thought – as well as for the activists and leaders of a renewed animal rights cause – it has always been a case of denouncing the same widespread system of oppression.
The explicit and direct reference to the battle for the recognition of gay rights in the terms of vegephobia and veggie pride, sheds further light on the concerns of these intellectual constructions. The aim is to achieve existence as a collective (Bourdieu 1984; Elias & Scotson 1997; Chartier 2013) in the fight against speciesist domination. This case of the spokespeople speaking on their own account partly replaces the political representation of animals of which the French anti-speciesist pioneers experienced the impracticability. Ultimately, what we observe here is a structural shift in the idea of the political representation of animals. The impossibility of gaining recognition in France of the principle of a critical political representation of animals, and of an advocacy in their supposed interest of not suffering human oppression, led these frustrated importers of conceptual innovations of the English-speaking world to update the definition of advocacy itself. It is no longer only a case of speaking “on behalf of,” but also “as.” Vegetarian and vegan supporters of animal rights subjected to the prevailing vegephobia thus also become victims – indirect victims, to be sure, but victims all the same – of the speciesist system; this reclassification is expected to allow them to justify their claims in the public space. Because the political representation of animals is not accepted as it is in English-speaking cultural spaces, the anti-speciesists thus propose to articulate the foundations of an embodiment-representation, as far as they are themselves included in the group of victims of the oppression they are fighting (Hofmann 2003; Sintomer 2013):
When we denounce vegephobia, it is not only to show the extent to which we, vegetarians, are discriminated against. It is to show the extent to which animals are discriminated against – even through us. It’s important to keep in mind that to attack us is like attacking the lawyer to reach the convict. [...] Animals are seen as inferior to humans. By showing our solidarity with them we assume this inferiority – we are to some extent scorned and marginalized. As if, because we say that our species does not have all the rights, we find ourselves deprived of the privileges we had in being born human. We do not reach the degree of injustice with which animals are treated (we still belong to the dominant species). However, we are clearly shunned – symbolically banished. (Bonnardel, Fergé, Olivier 2011: 7-8)
The correlation between these new formalisations and the ruptures in the trajectories of the anti-speciesists is striking: the latter then gave up their impossible-to-maintain positions as importers to recentre their efforts in the direction of the French animal rights scene. The discovery and the denunciation of vegephobia, and the activists’ assertion of the fact that they too were sentient beings who faced the injustice of speciesism occurred at a phase of withdrawal for the importers regarding the academic field, and of reconversion of their scholastic dispositions in a hitherto neglected militant space. Hence the assertion of a strategy such as “veggie pride,” founded not only on cold reasoning and intellectual arguments, but on the real experiences shared by vegetarians – a kind of lowest common denominator echoing the obstacles encountered in the past by these frustrated thought-brokers of animal ethics (Roueff 2014). The concepts and slogans thus formed can therefore also be read as an attempt to universalize the unsuccessful trajectories of the anti-speciesists, with a view to politicizing food practices and consumption patterns perceived until then as being essentially outside the political order (Lagroye 2003; Aït-Aoudia, Bennani-Chraïbi, Contamin 2010). However, the process of politicization did not come about easily: while “veggie pride” had not ceased to grow since its launch in 2001, thanks to the fact it was the only unitary animal rights demonstration in France, the concept of vegephobia had up until then hardly spread.22 It mostly remained restricted and provoked resistance from animal rights activists, even in the spaces dedicated to its promotion.
The difficult acceptance of a concept in the activist milieu. Extract from fieldwork notebook from the Estivales de la question animale, July 25th–26th 2012.
“Report of the session on ‘A proposal of tools and collective action in the campaign against speciesism (emotional release, awareness-raising groups, theatre-forums, etc.)’ organized by Yves Bonnardel. The session is in fact centred around the notion of vegephobia, which Bonnardel and other activists had been attempting to promote once again to activists for several months. There has been at least one other session on ‘vegephobia’ – a presentation and definition of what it was, with examples of situations in which this form of discrimination is displayed.
Yves Bonnardel organizes groups of three or four people who had to tell each other their most significant experiences of vegephobia. The concept is not challenged or even questioned. During the ensuing discussion, in which each participant goes over their memorable experiences of vegephobia, the concept seems to have been accepted: though it was still discussed last year in informal exchanges between activists, the notion seems to be self-evident.
The session proceeds smoothly – each participant giving their testimony of the discrimination they had experienced until one of the last to speak rejects the concept. She explains that she would rather return to the subject of animals and talk about the implementation of strategies to help them (this being the argument par excellence within the cause). The activists reply and defend the principle of the meeting, taking up arguments originally presented by Bonnardel (without him intervening). But this dissonant voice frees inhibitions: other female activists explain that they had not dared contradict the other participants before, but that they don’t see the point of the exercise either, which they regard as self-pitying.”
It must be stressed, lastly, that this process of politicizing vegephobia that began at the start of the 2000s was also linked to strategic considerations and issues surrounding internal battles of the French animal rights movement. For several years, the anti-speciesist pioneers had in fact faced competition from actors and groups supporting a trend that was considered to be the complete opposite of their ideas. Led and represented by, among others, the lawyer Gary Francione (Francione 1996), this American school of thought that was considered to be abolitionist, viewed the promotion and spread of vegan consumption practices and vegan way of life to be the only viable strategy to end the exploitation of animals. Its supporters refuted all other types of initiative as indirectly strengthening the domination of human beings over animals (Francione 1998). The promoters of Veggie Pride criticized the abolitionists for hinging their strategy on personal conversion to veganism alone, and therefore depoliticizing it: they contrasted this with their definition of a political vegetarianism, which is subversive, assertive, and revealing of the breadth of the speciesist system:
It’s possible to be vegetarian and stop inviting people to follow our choice, and to instead denounce the slaughter of animals, and ask for this to end. To demonstrate in support of vegetarian pride is also to state courageously your willingness to bring animal rights to the centre of the public debate without masking or camouflaging it in propaganda in favour of the vegan lifestyle, without tempering the protest by making it lighter or more reassuring by restricting it to personal behaviour. (Corabi 2009)
It is difficult today to predict the outcome of these internal conflicts within the cause, or to qualify the importance of these disputes for the future of the movement. It is still the case today that French anti-speciesists refer back to their unfortunate experience of importing ideas about animal liberation in order to resist this new wave of transfer from English-speaking countries (Francione 2016). By following the progress and trajectory of activist concepts and slogans in this way, their transnational and subnational circulation from one space of reception to another, it is possible to comprehend the logics underpinning the development of specific national political traditions and protests, as we can see with this endeavour to represent vegetarian animal representatives, born out of the discontent caused by the unsuccessful importation of a foreign school of thought. While this undoubtedly constitutes an extreme example, I hope to have demonstrated through it the relevance of an approach that articulates findings in the social history of political ideas and in analysis of social movements, which are considered to be cultural enterprises producing symbolic goods. This approach also makes it possible to appreciate practical transformations of advocacy, and of a conceptual bricolage which consists in using methods that remain fluid and as susceptible to evolutions of contexts and power relations on a macro and meso social level, as to the upheavals and ruptures of individual biographies.
Woods Abigaïl (2012). “From Cruelty to Welfare: the Emergence of Farm Animal Welfare in Britain, 1964-71.” Endeavour, 36(1): 14-22.