Angela Cassidy at the Biological Interest Group – 26th March, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the third meeting of the Biological Interest Group of the spring semester, Angela Cassidy, from the University of Exeter, discussed a chapter from a book she is presently working on. The book investigates the history of the UK controversy over badgers and bovine tuberculosis. Bovine tuberculosis has been a controversy of chronic science-policy knowledge for over 40 years now, with much of the discussion becoming much more ‘public’ and polarised since around 2010. The volume is under contract with Palgrave and is the main output of a Wellcome fellowship. While the volume is primarily intended as an academic monograph, it is Angela’s hope that it will also reach scientific, policy and public audiences interested in the debate.

The chapter discussed at this meeting was entitled ‘Pest Control and Ecology’, which is about the applied ecologists working within Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) who undertook disease ecology and field research once veterinarians had discovered tuberculosis badgers in the early 1970s. Using received ideas around the ‘logics of care’ (Mol, 2008; Mol et al, 2010) as well as more recent work about care and scientific practice, Angela deploys a broad analytical framework from which to understand how the various epistemic communities involved with badgers and bovine tuberculosis (namely those around vets, ecologists and badger protection campaigners) have come to such different positions on the problem. It was argued that policy on badgers is motivated by an understanding of them as pests, and that this predates the rationale of public health and preventing tuberculosis. As part of the discussion, the group considered the different logics, values, methodologies, and theoretical presuppositions that determined the ways in which the debate has unfolded. We considered the possible conflicts between epistemic communities and authorities as factors affecting both social policy and public perception.

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Mol, A., The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice, (Routledge, 2008)

Mol, A., I. Moser, & J. Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms, 1st edn., (Transcript-Verlag, 2010)

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N.b. Due to strike action, snowy weather and clashes with some of our participants, the arranged sessions of the 26th February, 5th March, and 12th March had to be either cancelled or rescheduled.

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In place of the session on the 5th of March, Jacob Habinek visited to participate (among other things) in the volunteer university, which Eric Lybeck helped to run during the strike. The workshop was entitled ‘University of the Future’, and it was organised around four themes:  work; governance; critique; and synthesis/life. The workshop was open to the public,

Dates and locations:

  • 5 March – Workshop I – Work – Exeter Central Library, 3:30-5:30
  • 6 March – Workshop II – Governance – Devon & Exeter Institution, 12:30-2:30
  • 7 March – Workshop III – Critique – Bike Shed Theatre, 3:30-5:30
  • 8 March – Workshop IV – Synthesis/Life – CoLab, 1-4

On the Tuesday, Jacob presented a paper, entitled ‘Professions as Politics: the Medical Profession and its End in the United States, 1783-1860’ at the Devon and Exeter Institution. The abstract is listed below:

“In a striking case of professional collapse, the medical profession in the United States gave way to a raucous free market for healthcare around the middle of the nineteenth century. To explain the causes and consequences of these events, we draw on insights from political sociology to probe the origins of opposition to the medical profession. Dominant professions must both maintain cultural authority over potential rivals and secure the support of state officials in order to maintain their advantages. We argue that the cultural and institutional power of a dominant profession can be overturned if challenger occupational groups organise and mobilise actively, and if populist political coalitions find that anti-professional sentiments resonate with the electorate. Moreover, each of these processes can reinforce the other, lending the normally staid world of professions the character of a contentious social movement arena. Our analysis contributes to sociological knowledge of the professions by demonstrating that the loss of professional power is not simply a case of professionalisation in reverse. Instead, political dynamics within professional and political ecologies can give rise to insurgent forces that challenge the foundation of professional power.”