Animal Studies Bibliography

Lynch, Michael E. 1988. Sacrifice and the transformation of the animal body into a scientific object: Laboratory culture and ritual practice in the neurosciences. Social Studies of Science 18: 265- 289.

[Note: this analysis applies only to the neurosciences, where the animal's death is a required part of the experiment.] There are two basic kinds of knowledge at work in animal laboratories. First, there is a commonsense knowledge that recognizes the animals as living creatures (the natural animal) with subjectivity, emotions, etc. that the researcher must interact with. This knowledge is not scientifically proven or tested and is not reported in scientific studies. The commonsense view is the perspective on animals that most people take, and what makes it difficult for most people to understand how scientists can engage in animal research. Our (and scientists') interactions with the naturalistic animal involve anthropomorphism and emotional involvement. Second, there is the scientific knowledge of the animal as specimen or piece of data (the analytic animal). The commonsense knowledge is subjugated in the lab and in science, but it is essential to the production of good scientific findings. Understanding how to interact with animals helps scientists put the animals at ease during procedures, and less struggle means better specimens. The analytic animal is thus a rendering or transformation (269) of the naturalistic animal. In the process of killing and cutting up the (naturalistic) animal, it is grouped with other specimens and becomes a set of data points and numbers to be analyzed. Scientists speak of good animals and bad animals in both senses--good animals are both docile as naturalistic animals and are clear, useable specimens as analytic animals. The process by which the naturalistic animal is made into the analytic animal (a cultural object) include processes of breeding for particular characteristics. The major moment in the process, however, is the sacrifice. In usual social scientific use, sacrifice denotes an act for linking the profane and the sacred, and we can see this as parallel to scientific animal sacrifice transforming the naturalistic animal to the analytic one. Further, sacrifice victims are often specially bred/raised for that purpose, and their remains are used in ceremonial rites. Similarly, lab animals are bred and cared for for their future role as specimens, and their various parts are separated and used for specific purposes. There are three main areas of parallel between this lab transformation and the traditional use of ritual. First, preparing the victim must in both cases involve a specific series of events to make it acceptable for use--if something goes wrong during this part of the procedure (e.g. not enough anesthetic or dies at the wrong time), the animal cannot be transformed successfully (i.e. it will not work as a specimen). The correct procedure requires adherence to the correct temporal and spatial requirements. Second, destroying the victim in order to transfer it from the naturalistic state to the abstracted and purified set of theoretical relations (279) must be done with minimal shock to the animal in order to keep bodily functions as normal as possible. If this part of the process fails, the animal will not achieve the analytic state. Third, the victim is constituted with meaning. Lab workers identify with it as a source of information about ourselves (hence their usefulness in experiments), and they see it as a type of responsibility to create the analytic animal, including a rite of passage to have new workers get into the work by starting out doing the sacrifices. The terms sacrifice in this context is a naturally occurring metaphor and the meanings described are only partially recognized by the workers. In sum, the analytic animal may be created as a product of the naturalistic animal, but the process may also fail. The analytic animal is most importantly linked to the naturalistic one because creation of analytic animals would rarely be possible without the commonsense knowledge that allows workers to effectively interact with the animals to ensure good procedures. Although this commonsense knowledge is generally discounted or ignored, it is central to the production of science. One way for scientists to improve their public image might be to talk more about this commonsense-based practice, as well as to focus on their practice of sacrifice as a ritual. This might offer a sense of respect for life that the public does not now see among animal researchers.



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