The counterculture makes it into academe

March 13, 1998

Really revolting party outfits

Mary Anna Wright, 28, is writing her PhD thesis on dance culture and ecstasy at City University, London. While an unemployed Marine Biology graduate, Mary Anna got involved in the free party end of the rave scene in 1991. The free rave/festival at Castlemorton in 1992, which united what was left of the 1980s Peace Convoy/Stonehenge movement with the 1990s rave generation, was a defining moment. "My father lived near there and I went",she explains. "I couldn't equate the heavy press outrage about the event with the comments from the local people I'd seen there, many of whom said to me that it was the best day they'd ever had. There was such a gap between the freedom and pleasure of free parties and the increasingly draconian attitude towards them of the government and the media."

In 1994 she attended a conference in Ireland where she came into contact with leading drug researchers like British counterculture guru the late Nicholas Saunders, and Ralph Metzner, one of Timothy Leary's Harvard contemporaries. Since then she has tried to balance research objectivity with a hands-on involvement in the British dance scene.

Jane Harris, 26, became a vegetarian at the age of 14 and has been involved in campaigns for animal rights ever since. She is now a vegan, and is at Edinburgh University completing her doctoral thesis, which explores the differences between how male and female animal rights activists operate.

The fact that twice as many women as men are vegetarians, and that three-quarters of all animal rights activists are women, was one starting point for Jane's research. The other was reading Carol Adams's book The Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams's provocative arguments about connections between the treatment of animals and women inspired Jane to look in detail at her own motivation for activism, and at what she sees as the still-marginalised experiences of other women animal rights activists. Through feminism Jane has sensitised herself to the power relations between researchers and those "being researched". The dichotomy is one she constantly tries to bridge.

Jane's own animal rights activism has been through education and demonstration - the more conservative end, if you like - rather than with direct action groups like the Animal Liberation Front. Her involvement with the national organisation Animal Aid balances her research, and her doctoral study includes interviews with ex-ALF prisoners, hunt saboteurs, etc.

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