‘Worldly Togetherness’: The inaugural meeting of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists, 2020

In August, I presented a conference paper at the inaugural meeting of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists, a newly formed group founded by Corey Wrenn and Zoei Sutton in 2020. The association is for sociologists ‘who recognize veganism and anti-speciesism as an ethical imperative in the discipline,’ and aims to provide transnational networking and career development. Their inaugural conference was held on zoom across three time zones, bringing together vegan sociologists from across the world to present their research and discuss the past and future of veganism in the discipline.

I attended the European time zone session, which was headed up with a keynote from Kate Stewart, Matthew Cole, and Iris Craane on the archives of The Vegan Society’s founder, Donald Watson. They shared early findings from their work in Watson’s archives (held by his son at his vegan B&B in the Lake District). Their new study was particularly resonant in relation to my own work in the Ryder Papers, and has inspired me to return to this work in the near future. I also attended the American time zone’s keynote by Elizabeth Cherry on emancipatory vegan sociology, which carefully accounted the history of vegan sociology, and discussed the futures of the discipline.

My own talk, which is embedded above, draws from interviews with vegan activists from my PhD research, that were undertaken in 2018. In this paper, I contend that embodied knowledges are important emerging narratives for theorising and understanding veganism as a practice of ethico-political care beyond the human. This paper draws on activist ethnographies and interviews with vegans and animal activists based in Britain to argue that understanding ethico-political care and veganism through embodied knowledges is vital to attempts to create the conditions to imagine and enact less violent multispecies futures.  These embodied knowledges are important to veganism in three ways: (1) to establish and nurture intersubjective interspecies empathy; (2) as a performance of authenticity; and (3) as a political deployment of veganism as a revolution of everyday life. 

Each of these relies upon the embodiment of veganism, to greater and lesser extents, as “feeling wrong” in one’s own body and bodily practices of eating animals, leading to uncomfortable socio-spatial navigations of a disturbed and disturbing world. In this paper, I contend that where vegan knowledges are felt as originating in and of the body, it is part of an ethical and political practice of caring beyond the human. Following Annemarie Mol’s (2008) theorisation of the eaten and eater’s subjectivities as always sustaining one another, I understand the refusal to consume animals and developing vegan beliefs and praxis as intimately entangled with embodying non-violent ethics and politics. This builds upon feminist body-politics to further understandings of veganism as an ethical and political enactment of care, friendship and imagination that has the power to transform the self, interspecies relationships and build alternative multispecies worlds in the present and future.

The papers given in the European time zone spanned from Peppa Pig’s popularity with children amidst the prevalence of pig-eating (Lynda Korimboccus) to mediated encounters with ‘digital animals’ (Jonathan Turnbull and Adam Searle) and Federica Timeto’s naturalcultural bestiary of agencies, to name a few. The talks demonstrated the breadth in method, theory, and practice in vegan sociology, speaking to the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the emergent discipline. This range of perspectives inspired lively conversations in the chat and Q&A’s of each talk, challenging and supporting each speaker to continue pursuing their work for animals and for the discipline.

This talk marks my first ‘zoom presentation’ (unless, of course, we count my PhD viva back in May) and it threw up lots of interesting navigations of how conferences are being rethought at all levels in the wake of Covid-19. The translation of my own presenting style – relying on quotes on a powerpoint whilst speaking alongside them – into the online sphere meant I used imagery and photographs from my research more effectively. The biggest personal challenge was in the talk itself, there were no audience faces on-screen, making it difficult to ‘read the room,’ to add more detail or end my tangents based on the atmosphere in the audience. Nonetheless, it was a warm and welcoming arena in which to trial this new mode of communicating and networking, allowing me to connect with others via twitter and continue following and supporting their work. The organisers, by working over multiple time zones, circumvented issues of accessibility and affordability, as the event was free to attend, and the conference’s success is a testament to their dedication to emancipatory vegan sociology’s growth, to which we all owe a huge gratitude.

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