Animal research, ethical boundary-work, and the geographies of veterinary expertise

Alistair Anderson and Pru Hobson-West
Publication date

The veterinary profession has been relatively understudied in social science, though recent work has highlighted the geographic dimensions of veterinary expertise. This paper draws on in-depth qualitative interviews with Named Veterinary Surgeons (NVSs) working in UK animal research to demonstrate how and why they distinguish between ethical aspects of veterinary work in the spaces of the laboratory and general clinical practice. The paper mobilises the sociological concept of ethical boundary-work to help understand how animal research – often assumed to represent a contentious ethical space – is constructed positively as a space for veterinary work. Findings suggest first, that NVSs differentiate between laboratory veterinary-work and clinical work based on the scale at which veterinary expertise functions in the provision of healthcare to animals. Second, NVSs highlight a geography of veterinary authority in which veterinary expertise is felt to be more successfully applied in the laboratory compared with the clinic, where professional expertise competes with other sources of information and clients' finances and behaviours. Third, NVSs articulate a geography of consistency in which veterinary care in the laboratory is claimed to be more consistent between animals, as opposed to in the clinic, where animal experience may be influenced by individual owner characteristics. Overall, we show how through engaging in this kind of ethical boundary-work NVSs are not only presenting a form of scientific practice as ‘ethical’, they are also constructing a professional topology of veterinary practice and expertise. Finally, the paper argues for greater attentiveness to veterinary geographies beyond the more routine spaces of veterinary practice.

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