Animal Studies Bibliography
Michael, Mike. 1996. Constructing Identities: The Social, the Nonhuman and Change, pp. 85- 104, 141-152. London: Sage Publications.
[Note: Michael examines actor-network theory and how it can be applied to these cases, but his explanation of the theory is not included in the sections I have from the book.] In response to debate over animal experimentation, scientists make public efforts to justify the practice. The ways they articulate the issues both defines their own identities as scientists and attempts to define the identities of others engaged in the debate. Studies of different groups of scientists have shown that they use various techniques for appearing moral in this debate. Sometimes, they emphasize their own feelings for animals and explain how they put those feelings aside for science. Other times they focus purely on showing the former, by discussing their own pets or how in certain cases they choose some particular animal from the group to exclude from the research, reclassifying...them as subjects (85). Often, scientists criticize or undermine the public's claims by describing other uses of animals which are worse than their own. In Michael and Birke's (1994) study of British scientists, the scientists first described themselves as participants in a long tradition of careful treatment of animals, stating that new animal protection legislation did not change their treatment because the animals were already being treated well, but that the legislation did mean projects were even better thought out than before. The scientists then denigrated the public and further elevated their own behavior by enumerating other areas in which animals receive worse treatment--cosmetics testing, experimentation in foreign countries, abused pets, and meat industries. The scientists portray themselves as moral because they behave better than these other groups, and portray the public as in the wrong for criticizing the wrong groups and being hypocritical. The scientists also argue that animals even receive better treatment than do human surgery patients. The public is thus presented with two identities to fill--being a good' public which recognizes these differences and thinks hard about them as the scientists do, or a bad' public which remains unreasonable because it lacks this awareness of what the scientists consider the nuances of the question.
This articulation process also involves creating/defining a core set, or the group of people involved in both sides of the issue. The scientists, in their attempts to shape the terms of the debate, also attempt to define who can legitimately participate in the debate, a limitation that helps them control the debate. Scientists' discourses in Michael and Birke's interviews reveal attempts to exclude people from the core set based on various factors: criminality (participation in radical animal liberation actions); irrationality (the public conflates various uses of animals, as explained above, whereas scientists are rational and can see nuances, such as recognizing the difference between radicals and moderate animal welfare groups); simplicity (the public reacts emotionally or based on stereotypes rather than thinking hard about animal issues and their pros and cons as the scientists and ethicists do); inappropriate emotionality (the public's emotions may be easily manipulated or manufactured, tend to become excessive, may not be based on sound knowledge, logic, or experience with animals, and may be superficial, ignoring abuses outside of laboratories; scientists, on the other hand, can separate their emotions from the demands of science). Thus the scientists attempt to limit participants in the debate and to ensure that scientists will always be included in it.
We can also see identity formation in human-nonhuman interactions. For example, pets are often anthropormophized by their owners, and the two are considered to be in non-linguistic conversation. Some scholars argue, however, that rather than applying human subjectivities to animals, we should think of studying animals (others') in the same way we approach other ethnographic/anthropological study of others--to immerse ourselves in animal contexts and study them on their own terms. Such an understanding would expand not only our knowledge of animals but also our knowledge of human subjectivity, ways of communicating, and the like. Such an expansion would enable broader possibilities for human identity. Humans also have other identities based on their participation in other human-animal networks, such as jobs involving animals. To allow human identities in which animals are considered conversants, however, a proper background network must have already existed. Michael suggests that one way to understand this network is to study the history of thought about animals--from Cartesian animals-as-machines, to a romanticization of nature as urbanization separated people from animal contact. Alternatively, we can construct a more complicated history which includes recognizing the agency of the animals involved as well--for example, Budiansky (1994) argues that animals chose domestic life because it benefited them. We should thus understand non-humans as co-conversationalists (147), agents in their own right just as we are, and this end is best achieved through the use of narrative and myth.