Practice makes perfect? Skillful performances in veterinary work

Clarke, Caroline A. and Knights, David (2018). Practice makes perfect? Skillful performances in veterinary work. Human Relations, 71(10) pp. 1395–1421.



Is vetting a craft that must be learned owing to the limitations of scientific discipline, or simply a question of practice makes perfect? This question arose from our empirical research on veterinary surgeons (vets), who we found were often struggling with the divergence between the precise and unambiguous knowledge underlying the training and the unpredictability and imprecision of their everyday practices. These are comparatively underexplored issues insofar as the literature on vets tends to be descriptive and statistical, focusing primarily on clinical matters and associated human-animal interactions. Our cliché title has a question mark because while many vets remain embedded in the disciplined ‘certainties’ and causal regularities within their training, in practice this ordered world is rarely realized, and they are faced with indeterminacy where the ‘perfect’ solution eludes them. Vets often turn these unrealistic ideals of expertise back in on themselves, thus generating doubt and insecurity for any failure in their practices. In analysing vets’ experiences, we pay attention to the anatomical models of science, where linear causal analysis is expected to provide orderly and predictable outcomes or ‘right’ answers to problems, as well as notions of expertise that turn out to be illusory.

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