Exploring everyday relations with animal research: a sociological analysis of writing from the Mass Observation Project

McGlacken, Renelle (2021) Exploring everyday relations with animal research: a sociological analysis of writing from the Mass Observation Project. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores how the topic of laboratory animal research is related to in everyday life in the UK, providing a sociological analysis of practices of knowing, caring, and constructing necessary biomedical uses of animals. In doing so, it develops the few qualitative studies of societal understandings of animal research, aiming to expand analyses in this area beyond measurement of polarised and static notions of acceptance or opposition. Instead, this thesis approaches understandings of animal research as relational and positional, emerging within particular yet shared social worlds which give the issue meaning in the everyday. Such a stance goes beyond efforts to observe what people think or know about animal research which dominate previous studies in this area and, instead, opens these categories up further to explore what animal research means to individuals and why. In this way, the thesis challenges assumptions of passive absorption of information on the issue and accusations of public ignorance or misunderstanding.

Diverging from the dominant emphasis in this area on examining the views of the ‘general public’, this thesis explores the contributions of a specifically situated sample, namely correspondents to the Mass Observation Project, a national life-writing project in the UK. The Project’s embrace of plurality, reflexivity, and embodied knowledges provides an opportunity for a qualitative analysis of understandings of animal research which resists the pull to resolve concerns or debate in this area. In thematically analysing the 159 written responses to a 2016 Mass Observation Project Directive on the topic of ‘Using animals in research’, this study focuses on processes through which correspondents to the Project, or ‘Mass Observers’ as they are known, relate to animal research.

Going beyond assessments of attitudinal positions on the issue, this thesis attends to the messy affective and material dimensions of relations with animal research, embracing the ubiquity of ambivalence and discomfort that surround the topic. In doing so, the analysis presented here reveals tensions that animal research can generate amongst care obligations, moral values, and identities. Dwelling on the socio-ethical concerns associated with animal research, this thesis argues that science-society relations around the issue should move away from seeking consensus and instead contend with the complexity of concern it evokes, engaging with such concerns not as problems, but as valid and important contributions to a collective discussion around how animals should or should not be used in science.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hobson-West, Pru
Millar, Kate
Kirk, Robert
Keywords: laboratory animal research, public opinion, mass observation diaries
Subjects: H Social sciences > HM Sociology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 66576
Depositing User: Mcglacken, Renelle
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2021 10:07
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2021 10:07
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/66576

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