Research Topic

Veterinary Anthropology: Samples from an Emerging Field

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About this Research Topic

Veterinary anthropology has emerged in the last five years as a new domain of research in the wake of ethnographic and historical studies of zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza, swine fever, rabies, or plague. This Research Topic aims to stimulate further development of this (sub)field by broadening ...

Veterinary anthropology has emerged in the last five years as a new domain of research in the wake of ethnographic and historical studies of zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza, swine fever, rabies, or plague. This Research Topic aims to stimulate further development of this (sub)field by broadening its empirical and analytical focus to produce new general understandings of how veterinary knowledge and practices mediate changing relationships between humans and animals. Based on the model of medical anthropology, and bringing questions from animal studies, veterinary anthropology is an anthropology both of vets and with vets: it follows vets across varied arenas where they meet the challenges of new demands from humans and animals in ways that can fundamentally alter relations between the two and the socio-ecological contexts in which they exist.

This Research Topic aims to create a diverse ethnographic portrayal of veterinary medicine in the contemporary world. Therefore, we invite contributions that utilize ethnography as a unique tool of dialogical engagement to constitute a deeper understanding of how veterinary science is generated by centers of knowledge production and is consequently transformed into bodies of normative practices nested in various geographical, socio-cultural, and political contexts where it is regenerated, contested, altered. While the contribution of local understandings of animal health and illness to universalizing veterinary knowledges (what is called participatory veterinary science) is within the scope of expected contributions, we equally encourage critical exploration of dominant scientifically driven/informed practices, including those nested in the “One Health” paradigm.

Starting from particular sites and focusing on phenomena such as, but not limited to, animal therapy, wildlife conservation, livestock surveillance, euthanasia, or culling, the veterinary anthropologists represented in this volume will encounter vets caring for individual animals, anticipating cross-species transmissions, deciding whether or not animals should live or die, as well as assessing the values and costs attributed to different animals. How do vets face questions regarding the agency of the animals they consider their patients? Do they speak and act on those patients’ behalf? How do they distinguish a normal animal from a pathological one in different cultural contexts? How do they interact with other human stakeholders in human-animal relations, such as animal owners, animal activists, and nature lovers as well as virologists, epidemiologists, or consumers of animal products? What are the institutions of veterinary knowledge production and how is that knowledge practically implemented? In what broader cosmologies of illness and health, humanity and animality, or life and death do they operate? How do vets produce assessments of the value of animal life, including when they validate it as fit for human consumption? If the history of veterinary institutions will be integrated in these ethnographic studies, they should be more focused on interactions with animals in different locations where animal health is at stake.

We encourage contributors to reflect on what it means to address these and other related questions ethnographically, i.e., what are the advantages and limits of this staple anthropological tool of empirical enquiry in the study of veterinary medicine and its socio-ecological ramifications? Contributions that intertwine a more conceptual and analytical perspective with veterinary practices and materialities, put forward in ethnographically informed field philosophy, are welcome. Reviewers will come from veterinary science and social anthropology to assess the significance of these contributions in the frontier between these two disciplines.


Keywords: anthropology


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