Purdue University Graduate School
Hall_dissertation_Dec 42023.pdf (1.33 MB)

Social Movements, Technological Solutions to Problems, and Political Conflict: The Case of Alternative Proteins

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posted on 2023-12-04, 20:11 authored by Russell HallRussell Hall

New technologies are often developed to address pressing social problems such as climate change and world hunger, and social movements are often strong backers of these technological solutions. Yet political conflict can occur when those threatened by the new technology seek government action to block or delay its adoption. I analyze forces behind the development of such technologies and factors affecting the outcomes of ensuing political conflicts through an in-depth study of alternative or “alt-proteins,” plant-based and cell-cultured alternatives to traditional meat and dairy products. Developed to address the environmental and animal welfare problems of animal agriculture, alt-proteins have generated political conflict as livestock and dairy interests have sought regulations to limit producers’ ability to market alt-proteins as substitutes for meat and dairy products.

My research uncovers a network of organizations founded by animal welfare interest groups and activists that provide direct and coordinated support for alt-protein technology development and industry growth. Besides government lobbying, activities include founding and financing start-ups, supporting basic research, and providing various business supports to the industry. Early successes by some alt-protein companies have led dairy and livestock farmers to lobby the U.S. and state governments for protectionist labeling policies. While one might expect other businesses involved in the production and distribution of meat and dairy products to join in these efforts, I found this was often not the case. To explain this finding, I propose that the formation of a strong coalition to seek government support in opposing a new technology depends not only on businesses’ reliance on the old technology, but also on the cost to the businesses of diversifying into the new technology and on the speed with which the new technology is displacing the old. My research also shows how a social movement’s embrace of technological solutions to problems may fundamentally alter its strategies and coalition partners in both political and market spheres. In their quest to attract investment capital, organizations founded by animal welfare groups worked with large food companies to invest in alt-proteins but alienated some in other social movements. The latter fear that expensive technologies will further control of the food system by large corporations, illustrating the potential divisiveness of technological solutions to problems. I assess the effects of coalition building on outcomes of policy conflicts over alt-proteins and consider the applicability of this case to other situations.


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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Political Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Patricia Boling

Additional Committee Member 2

Harry Targ

Additional Committee Member 3

Eric Waltenburg

Additional Committee Member 4

Leigh Raymond

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