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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Robert Zussman

Second Advisor

Amy Schalet

Third Advisor

Jonathan Wynn

Fourth Advisor

Colin Jerolmack

Subject Categories

Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture


This dissertation examines how humans make moral sense of and with animals. Each substantive chapter is devoted to one of three topics: animal selfhood, veganism, and animal rights. In chapter two, I examine animal selfhood and its moral implications. I argue that animal selves, particularly in an elemental Meadian sense, are potentially real, but in most cases are unobservable or unverifiable phenomena. I also argue that any moral theory of animal rights based on animal selfhood is limited by the empirical and epistemological limitations of substantiating animal selves. In chapter three, I present the interactional strategies ethical vegans employ when presenting their moral beliefs to non-vegans. Using in-depth interviews and observations of vegan gatherings, I find that most vegans, those who use what I call “strategic individualism,” think of veganism as a general moral imperative—that humans ought to be vegan as a matter of social justice for animals—yet they frequently individualized their positions when interacting with nonvegans to avoid interpersonal conflict and thereby engage nonvegans. The difference in their private morals and their public presentation demonstrates that individualism may be better understood less as a fundamental orientation, which is the dominant approach in cultural sociology, so much as an interactional strategy to achieve particular goals. Lastly, in chapter four, I use interviews and observations to examine how animal welfarists and animal abolitionists complicate Max Weber’s distinction between the ethics of responsibility and the ethics of conviction. While Weber argued that ethical conduct is guided by two opposing and irreconcilable ethics—responsibility and ultimate ends—I argue that both the welfarists and abolitionists exhibit non-negotiable moral convictions while also demonstrating concerns about the consequences of their activism. Overall, this dissertation contributes to sociological understandings of animal selfhood, individualism, and ethics of responsibility and conviction.