Animal Studies Bibliography

Phillips, Mary T. 1994. Proper names and the social construction of biography: The negative case of laboratory animals. Qualitative Sociology 17(2): 119-142.

The linguistic practices and metaphors scientists use in their daily work serve to construct the meaning of their endeavor. Part of this construction of reality includes defining the lab animal as its own category, different from wild animals or pets. One of the main ways this difference can be observed is through the absence of naming lab animals. Assigning a proper name to something is a way that we give it a social identity and biography as an individual, in a class by itself. Interviews with animal researchers indicated that naming animals goes on fairly frequently in labs. Observation in the labs, however, suggested that the scientists were exaggerating this practice considerably, apparently because they believed that the researcher linked naming animals with compassion and care for them. In fact, in the majority of labs at any one time there are no named animals. The few cases where naming was found suggest some characteristics of the practice. In the first case, undergraduates suggested that the rats used in long-term behavioral experiments should be named. The graduate student then named the rats that the undergrads worked with, although she gave them joke names, naming them after people she disliked, and generally did not use the names while she worked with the animals nor in reporting to the head researcher, who also did not use the names. In the second case, monkeys used in long-term experiments were named by the researchers who worked with the animals daily, teaching them skills and proper responses (i.e. people who interacted with the animal as a whole being), whereas the head researchers who only performed surgery on the animals, did not know or use the names, meaning that each monkey only had an individual biography for certain lab workers. Naming, then, was often a practice of younger researchers or was based on the lab's division of labor. There are important structural barriers to naming lab animals and giving them a social identity. The large numbers of animals many experiments involve, the need to move quickly through each part of the work, the specially-bred homogeneity of the animals, the focus of scientists on animal parts (cells, tissues, etc.) rather than on the animal as a whole, and the fact that the animals almost always must die after a short time at the lab are all factors that keep researchers from naming animals or developing emotional ties with them. Cases where animals had names were often intermediate cases where the name was only used by some workers or was not used all the time, or where the name was a joke (e.g. to make fun or a scientists whose work the animal was meant to disprove) and therefore was not being used to construct a biography the way real proper names are used. Researchers made clear distinctions between lab animals and pets in explaining their practices. [This finding conflicts with Arluke's (1988) finding that animals served dual purposes as sacrificial animals and pets, probably because this study focused on scientists, while Arluke's included technicians and other non-professionals.] The scientists often made a teleological argument, saying that lab animals' purpose for living was to be used in research. Researchers were more willing to apply this standard to rats and other commercially bred animals than to cats and monkeys, often brought in from the wild and from pounds, respectively. These scientists expressed that their practices would be different if they worked with different kinds of animals (e.g. monkeys are different--they have personalities), but observation of researchers who did work with such animals showed that their practices were in fact not different. The symbolism of sacrifice used by scientists also reflects that the animals are in a different class from pets or wild animals--sacrificial animals, including lab animals, simply are not the type of animals we name. By keeping the animal out of the realm of naming, biography, and whole-animal interaction, scientists keep the animal as appropriate for sacrifice and transformation into scientific data.


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