When the Patient is a Dog: Towards the Development of a Veterinary Medical Humanities
Despite the recent “animal turn” in the humanities, and the ensuing growth of cultural studies of human-animal relations, the humanities and humanistic social sciences such as cultural anthropology have largely overlooked veterinary medicine as a key arena through which cultural values and assumptions about human/non-human animal relations are articulated, enacted, policed, and contested.
The veterinary profession—its presumptions, practices, training methods, and history—is rarely analyzed by scholars, yet it has an impact on most of the population either through caring for pets or through maintaining public health through the food chain. Historically, writing on veterinary medicine has often been produced by veterinarians themselves who are trying to find out more about the roots of their profession. Recognizing and addressing this lacuna, Professor Desmond’s largest long-term goal for this research is twofold. First, she will craft a fieldwork-based book about the contemporary practice of veterinary medicine in the U.S. that analyzes it from a social science/ethnographic and cultural studies approach. Topics will include: the dramatic recent feminization of the profession; the production of knowledge when the patient can’t speak; the place of the animal in veterinary medicine (which varies across species); and how the profession articulates concepts of values and ethics while crafting relations between human and non-human animals. Second, Professor Desmond plans to bring that work both to the medical humanities scholarly community (currently focused solely on human medicine) and to veterinary colleges themselves, as a way of potentially enhancing and transforming veterinary medical education and enlarging the medical humanities to include multi-species medicine.