Awash in urine
Vet reads Haraway and finds...herself.
Working within a multidisciplinary research environment provides every member of the AnNex team with unique opportunities to think outside the boundaries of their own discipline and benefit from exposure to the methods and perspectives of other humanities and social science researchers. As a clinician with experience of working as a Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) I feel well qualified, in one sense, to lead the ‘professions’ research stream which focuses on NVSs as one example of a professionalised laboratory role. However, in terms of methodology, my training in social sciences and previous research on my own profession has necessitated a painful and difficult process of dismantling many of the approaches, perspectives and ‘truths’ I had relied upon during my basic science training, veterinary degree and time spent working as a clinician. The AnNex multidisciplinary environment is pushing me even further: to explore the relevance of disciplinary perspectives and approaches which may even conflict with the scientific and professional norms of the veterinary community.
I was recently warned, as a developing social scientist, that engaging with the work of Donna Haraway may be a step too far for my current stage of metamorphosis, and that relating such radical work to the veterinary community could be challenging. I was surprised, therefore, to find that Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in theChthulucene (2016) provided me with a useful perspective on my profession, and myself, which in many ways connects with the realities of veterinary practice in a way that more traditional representations of the profession do not.
The chapter ‘Awash in Urine’ brings to mind the physical state of a veterinary surgeon at many times during their career. Indeed, Haraway’s wry humour and conversational writing style is reminiscent for me of clinical, rather than academic, discussions of bodily function. However, the content of this chapter is a thoroughly thought provoking and highly relevant account of the production, prescription and use of synthetic and natural oestrogens for the treatment of both humans and animals. Haraway’s trademark feminist storytelling interweaves the experiences and roles of numerous human and non-human actors, which culminate in the administering of medication to herself and her pet. She uses this tentacular perspective to acknowledge her accountability, as a consumer of biologically produced medicines and pet owner, to a complex web of industry workers, animals, scientists and patients. This perspective relates very well to the ‘nexus’ approach of this programme, but is not perhaps so familiar at present to those outside the social sciences.
In Haraway’s account of canine incontinence the vet emerges as the provider of scientific and clinical evidence as to the safety and efficacy of prescribed hormone treatments; a role and responsibility that I imagine most vets would comfortably identify with. However, a veterinary professional is undoubtedly also present, though unacknowledged, at numerous other points in Haraway’s tale, as in our society. The complex web of accountabilities Haraway herself accepts as a consumer of medicine could easily be reimagined from a clinician’s perspective. Within this story I saw myself and colleagues assisting with research in the lab; breeding, curing and killing animals; attending to our own medical needs and caring for and about the health of both human and non-human loved ones. From this viewpoint, veterinary accountability goes way beyond the treatment of animals in the veterinary clinic, though it seems commonly imagined this way.
For Haraway ‘we are all responsible for multispecies flourishing … but not in the same ways’ (p 116). Far from muddying the waters in my exploration of professionalised laboratory roles, Haraway’s perspective is invaluable in offering a view on accountability, which demands acknowledgement of the complexity, conflict and uniqueness of professional laboratory roles. As a clinician, and human, lived experience of professional roles is messy at a far greater depth than that of urine soaking. In contrast with the orderly and clinical representation of responsibility found in professional guidance and legislation, the detailed and honest accounts of contemporary NVS work that this project is generating indicate that Haraway’s theories may provide a very meaningful and translatable framework for analysis.