Animal Research Unbound: The Messiness of the Moral. Lesley A. Sharp (Barnard College, Columbia University)

This keynote speech by Lesley A. Sharp will take place at the University of Exeter's XFI Henderson Lecture Theatre and is hosted by Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences

Interspecies intimacy defines an inescapable reality of lab animal research. This talk is an effort to disentangle this reality’s consequences—both in and outside the lab—as framed by the quandaries of ethnographic engagement.

Recent encounters with audiences outside labs provide an entry point for questioning how the “messiness of the moral” might facilitate an “unbounded” approach to lab animal worlds. Within the lab, one encounters specialized ethical principles—often codified as law—that delimit strict boundaries of in/appropriate human thought and action.  These are evident in, for instance, mandates to number—and not name—non-human lab-based creatures. Such principles determine quotidian practices of “welfare” and “care” that, in peculiar ways, privilege animal health (as key to reliable data) while obscuring, erasing, or denying human forms of “self care.” In other words, they presuppose a regulatory ability to formulate, shape, and (re)direct human action. Yet attentiveness to the “messiness of the moral” of lab work exposes other realities: indeed, lab personnel regularly engage in a host of subversive responses that test or cross the boundaries of mandated behavior. These are not acts of sabotage; instead, they demonstrate creative moral thought-in-action that simultaneously exposes unspoken anxieties about lab animal work and staff efforts to (re)invigorate the meaning of “care” as interspecies responsibility. The ethnographer’s ability to witness, record, and write about these actions within the lab rests comfortably on the relativist principle of suspended judgment. Once one moves outside the lab, however, wherein lies ethnographic responsibility, when one's accounts of the moral messiness of quotidian lab practices become unbounded and go public?  I argue that multidimensional, interspecies framework of intersubjectivity (via Michael Jackson) could offer productive “unbounded” approaches simultaneously applicable to those based within and outside labs, and productive for the ethnographer, too.

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