The Need to Address Classism at Conferences, Seminars, and Festivals

I know a lot of people get excited about conferences, seminars, and festivals organized around vegetarianism and/or nonhuman animal advocacy. I wish I could get as excited about these events, but I tend to be put off by the ever present class privilege that is built into the vast majority of them.

In a previous post on White privilege at an nonhuman animal advocacy conference, I mentioned how a $120 registration fee for a conference excludes poor and working-class people from attending. In response, Gary commented:

Regarding the $120 price for the conference, which could preclude some people with lower incomes from attending...What would be some practical solutions to that issue? I think FARM did allow for a certain number of people to get paid at the conference, or to receive a discount in return for helping out, but I don't know the details.

I'm not going to suggest a quick-fix, because I believe that the price is part of a much larger problem with the organization of this and similar conferences like it. While unfamiliar with the details of the FARM conference discount policy, I am familiar with similar policies that allow poor and working-class people to attend at a lower rate in exchange for "helping out." I find these programs extremely annoying for the very fact that they allow conference organizers to appear charitable and "inclusive" while upholding a classist dynamic. That is, the policy simple reinforce the classism with the poor attendees having to labor while the rich/middle-class attendees go about oblivious of their privilege.

Obviously, $120 is reasonable for many upper- and middle-class people. Furthermore, conferences usually privilege middle-class professionals, particularly nonprofit professionals who often have their registration fees paid for by the nonprofit. And most of these events held in posh hotels and conference centers, which isn't a huge issue for professional and upper-middle-class attendees, especially those reimbursed by their organization for lodging and travel. So access to these conferences is largely open to these folks.

In contrast, $120 is a significant hurdle for most poor and working-class people. Unlike professionals, for working-class people not only is it a problem finding the funds to attend, but also attempting to get time off from work and the loss of pay for this time is significant. Then there are all the cost of travel and lodging. Poor and working-class people often can't afford a room in the hosting or nearby hotels and may have to travel to a more affordable room some distance from the conference site. However, assuming that a poor or working-class person is able to overcome the financial, time, travel, and lodging issues and attends on a discounted rate, once at the conference this individual is expected to labor and serve the professional and middle-class attendees. In effect, the policy ends up only furthering class privilege and exploiting the poor and working class.

If a conference is truly going to include poor and working-class folks, then it must address the very roots of classism inherent in the traditional conference, seminar, and festival format.

Re: The Need to Address Classism at Conferences

Good point. This certainly feeds into the discourse that surrounds the issue of the alleged elitism inherent in veganism. This challenge to ethical veganism isn't valid; however, with examples such as this the critique mentioned above, imagined or real, should provide the necessary impetus to change the ways in which these conferences, etc. are put together. Indeed, as veganism is at its core a movement for social justice, examples such as these belie our own premises in many ways.

You're exactly right

You're exactly right, Alex. For years academics have wrongly been using these events where privilege White, college educated, upper-middle-class professionals congregate to build a profile of nonhuman animal advocates. As such, these researchers inevitably concluded that nonhuman animal advocates are White, upper-middle class, and college educated. Here are some examples:

1) Brian M. Lowe and Caryn F. Ginsberg conducted a survey of 105 attendees at FARM's "Animal Rights 2000" conference and used this survey as the basis of an article, "Animal Rights as a Post-Citizenship Movement," published in Society & Animals. In the article Lowe and Ginsberg argue that, "The contemporary animal rights movement, with its disproportionately well-educated membership, appears to share many aspects of what Parkin ... termed 'middle class radicalism.'"

2) Shelley L. Galvin and Harold A. Herzog, Jr. did a survey at the 1990 "March for the Animals" in Washington D.C. and concluded in their article "Ethical Ideology, Animal Rights Activism, and Attitudes Toward the Treatment of Animals," published in Ethics and Behavior, that the average nonhuman animal advocate is White, college educated, and upper-middle class.

3) S. Plous also did a survey at the 1990, as well as the 1996, "March for the Animals." In the article, "Signs of Change Within the Animal Rights Movement: Results From a Follow-Up Survey of Activists," published in Journal of Comparative Psychology, Plous concludes that nonhuman animal advocates are White, college educated, and upper-middle class.

Lowe and Ginsberg, Plous, and Galvin and Herzog all fail to acknowledge how race and class privilege is actually structured into these events. That is, the very reason their surveys shows mostly only White, upper-middle-class people with college education is because the events all privilege those who are White, professional and upper-middle class.

It doesn't help that the organizers of events claim they are representing "the movement." FARM is one of the worst offenders in claiming to represent "the movement" – as if there is only one nonhuman animal advocacy movement – and therefore promote the myth that all nonhuman animal advocates are White, upper-middle class, and college educated.

Re: The Need to Address Classism at Conferences

At the Estivales de la question animale, the seven day open discussion forum we organize each Summer in France on the animal question, the fee this Summer was 4€ (about $6) per day for registration, plus about 7€ ($10) for meals + lodging. Reduced prices on demand. Our aim is to allow all people to come, both those who have little spare money and those who are used to certain standards of comfort (good beds, showers and decent food). It's not easy, and we may have to put up the prices next year, but we believe that the movement is made of all kinds of people and that all kinds of people should be able to participate.