Animal Studies Bibliography

Arluke, Arnold. 1988. Sacrificial symbolism in animal experimentation: Object or pet? Anthrozoos 2(2): 98-117.

The use of the term “sacrifice” in animal experimentation is more that an euphemism. Sacrifice is an ambivalent act which involves both distancing from the one being sacrificed (in order to enable oneself to commit the act) and connection to it (in order to give the act meaning and to prevent complete objectification). In other words, the sacrificial victim must be both turned into an object and turned into a myth which makes it a part of the community. Counteranthropomorphism occurs in labs, making animals into objects through 5 mechanisms. First, animals as objects are incorporated into the experimental plan before they even arrive at the lab. This incorporation can be seen in animals inclusion on the proposal's list of “supplies” and in the way choices of number and type of animal are justified based on the amount of data they will yield. Further, since the animals to be used are often ordered from catalogs and specially bred for the purpose of science, researchers see them as nothing more than scientific subjects. Second, the animals are deindividualized by treating them as interchangeable and anonymous. Smaller animals are often handled and caged in groups increasing the deindividuization. Numeric codes, references to the researcher-owner (“John's mice”), and the animals' function (“donor monkeys” etc.) may all serve as labels for each animal or cage of animals. The use of numbers deindividuates especially strongly since it serves as a direct link to the data the animal will become. Acute animals (animals used in short-term experiments) are almost never named, while chronic animals (long-term experiments) are sometimes named, more often by people with greater contact with the animals, although these names are not necessarily seriously used. Third, commodification occurs to offer workers a secular frame with which to understand the object that has been created. The most readily available such frame is animals as food, and as such labs are replete with cooking metaphors and utensils, as well as (reportedly true) stories about researchers eating lab animals after the experiment. This frame has a sacred aspect as well, as eating the victim may involve remembering it and re-linking it to the community. Fourth, sacrificial victims are kept isolated from others. Federal regulations require keeping all sacrifice and experimentation activities in the lab and returning animals to care facilities for the night. Animals are also often shielded from the lab until right before the experiment begins, having their cages covered or being kept in another room while others are sacrificed. The division of labor surrounding the procedure, with different types of workers having different amounts of contact with the live, conscious animal, is also part of the sacrifice ritual. Fifth, the social definitions of the animals--the norms in the lab--require that participants define them as objects. When someone acts based on a different definitions (e.g. a newcomer or outsider responding to the animals as pets), workers may ignore it, withdraw from it, or take the animal away from the person. When such definitional threats come from insiders, they may be sanctioned, required to stop naming the animals or whatever other offensive behavior they were performing. Machines in the lab may be anthropomorphized--attributed emotions and even named--making them more personified than the animals nearby. The making of lab animals into pets, however, is just as necessary to the functioning of lab culture as is objectification, since it serves to complete the other part of sacrifice ritual, reintegrating the victim into the community an the sacrificer. Objectification cannot be complete because workers feel they are losing a part of themselves by no responding to the animals as pets. The pet-roles animals in labs assume are important symbols because of their existence in the presence of continual sacrifice. [For 4 types of pet relationships, see Arluke 1990a summary.] The sacrifice serves as a symbol that connects the animal as object and pet as well as the scientific and personal necessities of the workers. Scientific necessities include: choosing “pure” animals (the only kind that will produce sound results) that exist only to be used in experiments, a fact that eases the burden of the work for some; careful handling, often with mock affection needed to get animals to cooperate and remain calm; and careful sacrifice procedures to avoid death at the wrong time, which is upsetting because it produces bad data. New workers are initiated into doing sacrifices as a rite of passage with several stages: learning the procedure so the worker can perform experiments on small animals alone; learning from others that the animals do not suffer from the sacrifice; experiencing their first accidental kill and the stress it produces; and learning the difference between sacrifices, done for gathering tissue, and other kills. (Animals not killed until after the experiment are not sacrificed--they are usually disposed of carelessly, with no protocol to guide the process. They may also be mined by other labs for spare parts. The animal that was sacred as creator of data is now, once the experiment is complete, a profane object which needs no special treatment.) Personal necessities may intrude at any time in the work, making the meaning of the animals' sacrifice ambivalent. Technicians may avoid certain types of sacrifice or avoid it altogether by changing jobs. Workers may try to minimize the suffering of the animals being sacrificed, and may have trouble performing the sacrifice when objectification is challenged by a personal relationship with the animal, when an animal exhibits suffering during the procedure, or when an animal shows pet-like behavior (a dog giving a paw, etc.) or “looks.” New workers are gradually socialized to more successfully separate personal necessities from scientific ones, but any worker may have feelings that conflict with the actions they have to take. The definitions of the animal as object and as pet and the ritual of sacrifice create an ambiguous animal that is the essence of laboratory work. Sacrifice still, however, causes stress to many workers and should be dealt with by scientific institutions as a valid part of the job that workers should have outlets to deal with.


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