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Taking Root: Animal Advocacy and the Regulation of Science

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Can movements promote change through democratic processes like policy reform? The debate on this question is long-standing among activists and scholars. The animal advocacy movement provides a good case for examining the sorts of reforms that aid mobilization for further change and those that stymie it. My dissertation uses a longitudinal analysis of the animal advocacy movement and its campaigns to reform or abolish animal research. I examine the effect of federal regulation at the laboratory level by interviewing scientists, bioethicists, veterinarians, and other professionals involved in animal research. I also use archival data and media analyses to capture longitudinal changes related to increasing scrutiny of research using animals, and the recursive effects between policy reform and mobilization. First, I find that particular federal policy reforms that established local structures of oversight embedded activists’ interests (animal welfare) within the institution of laboratory science. Although it’s debatable whether this has improved conditions for laboratory animals, I find evidence that institutional actors like veterinarians, regulatory officials, and bioethicists have become players in laboratory animal research in ways that influence cultural change within laboratories. Second, I find that passage of animal protection policies has not tempered aggressive protest activity, and that the movement’s internal conflict over the pursuit of policy reforms may facilitate organizational diversity and a more robust social movement over time. Finally, I look at how transgressive extra-institutional protest activity influences scientists in conjunction with regulatory oversight. Adding to the radical flank model, I find that the radical flank is not just a sacrificial lamb that helps moderates achieve their goals (positive effect), nor a black sheep that taints the movement’s image (negative effect). Rather, the radical flank model has a “Good Cop, Bad Cop” effect, whereby radicals consistently pressure scientists while moderates achieve small goals. Overall, I argue that policy reform outcomes are contingent upon the institution the movement targets, that relatively insulated institutions like science are substantially influenced by internal structures established to embed activists’ interests, and that the movement continually exerts pressure through both radical and moderate strategies.

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