Veterinary realities: what is foot and mouth disease?

Law, John and Mol, Annemarie (2011). Veterinary realities: what is foot and mouth disease? Sociologia Ruralis, 51(1) pp. 1–16.



As veterinary science diagnoses, treats, and seeks to prevent animal diseases it draws on different traditions for knowing and acting, mobilises different kinds of materials, and takes on board different techniques. In this article we explore the character of this heterogeneity and the tensions that arise when the various traditions of veterinary science work together in practice. We do this by analysing a particular case: that of the diagnosis of foot & mouth disease in the UK in 2001.
Our claim is that despite the fact that they use the same word, clinic, lab and epidemiology are each involved with their own specific ontological variant of ‘the’ disease. Foot and mouth is not singular. It is a composite.
But it is not just ‘foot and mouth disease’ that shifts between veterinary repertoires. So, too, do other figures and configurations. The consequence is that it isn’t possible to map different versions of foot and mouth disease onto a background of shared coordinates.
In the paper we lay out a few basic but crucial differences between the worlds enacted by the clinic, the lab and epidemiology. Though we do this in what we hope is a balanced way, to be balanced here is not necessarily to be neutral. Since the clinic is in the process of being marginalised, a balanced analysis necessarily becomes a song of praise for the clinic.

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