This study explored personal experiences of animal rights and environmental activists in New Zealand. The stories of participants provided insight into the challenges activists face in a country where the economy is heavily dependent on animal agriculture. A qualitative methodology was utilised and several major themes emerged: (1) emotional and psychological experiences, (2) group membership, (3) characteristics of activism and liberation, (4) the law and its agents, and (5) challenge to society. Participants of the study represent a group of individuals engaged in acts of altruistic offending triggered by exposure to the suffering of non-human animals. Their moral philosophy and conscience overrode all considerations for legal repercussions, and through their activism they not only challenged the status quo, but also called upon non-activist members of society to make meaningful contributions to the world around them.


Activism, Animal Rights, Altruism, Altruistic Offending, Empathy, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Author Bio(s)

Svetlana Feigin completed her PhD at the University of Auckland, New Zealand in 2016. Her research interests include social psychology, activism research, end-of-life care, ethics, forensic psychology, and qualitative research methods. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: svetlana.feigin@auckland.ac.nz.

Glynn Owens is Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland. A graduate of Brunel University and the University of Oxford, he has previously been Professor of Health Studies at the University of Wales, Professor of Forensic Clinical Psychology at Bangor University and Director of the clinical psychology training programme at the University of Liverpool. His research interests include aspects of end-of-life care, ethics, forensic psychology and the relationship between perfectionism and eating problems. Correspondence regarding his article can also be addressed directly to: g.owens@auckland.ac.nz.

Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith is the academic head of the Department of General Practice & Primary Health Care, University of Auckland. As well as being a general practitioner (Distinguished Fellow of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners), she is vocationally trained as a forensic physician (Fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Royal College of Physicians). She has published over 200 peer-reviewed papers plus four books and 11 book chapters, a number of which address ethical or forensic issues. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: f.goodyear-smith@auckland.ac.nz.


The present research was conducted as part of the corresponding author’s PhD at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare. The authors would like to thank the participants of the study.

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