Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 119–142 | Cite as

Proper names and the social construction of biography: The negative case of laboratory animals

  • Mary T. Phillips


This paper analyzes patterns of naming in the practices of research scientists who work with laboratory animals. The study is based on field work done in 23 biomedical and behavioral research laboratories over a period of nearly three years, as part of a broader investigation into the meaning of laboratory animals for contemporary scientists. Naming is viewed as a social practice that creates meaning of a particular kind, that of narrative coherence, which forms the essence of biography. Since laboratory animals are rarely given proper names, they provide a negative case that illuminates the significance of naming by showing what is entailed by its absence. I argue that the organization of scientific research creates conditions that foster the social construction of a distinct category of animal, the “laboratory animal,” that contrasts with nameable animals (e.g., pets) across every salient dimension. By virtue of this social construct, which is created and supported by naming practices as well as by other aspects of laboratory talk, the cat or dog in the laboratory is perceived by researchers as ontologically different from the pet dog or cat at home.


Social Psychology Laboratory Animal Social Issue Field Work Social Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allerton, D. J., 1987. “The Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Status of Proper Names.”J of Pragmatics 11, 1 (Feb.):61–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ariès, Philippe, 1981.The Hour of Our Death. Tr. by Helen Weaver. New York: Alfred B. Knopf.Google Scholar
  3. Arluke, Arnold B., 1991. “Going Into the Closet With Science: Information Control Among Animal Experimenters.“J of Contemporary Ethnography 20, 3 (Oct.):306–330.Google Scholar
  4. -- 1990. “Uneasiness Among Laboratory Technicians.”Lab Animal (May/June).Google Scholar
  5. ——, 1988. “Sacrificial Symbolism in Animal Experimentation: Object or Pet?”Anthrozoös 2, 2 (Oct. 5):97–116.Google Scholar
  6. Bercoff, Ruth Perez, 1987. Letter.The Sciences 27, 4 (July/Aug.):11.Google Scholar
  7. Browne, Malcolm W., 1985. “After 16 Years, Monkeys Are Back in Space.”New York Times (April 30):C9.Google Scholar
  8. Davies, Nigel, 1981.Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  9. Evans-Pritchard, Edward E., 1956.Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gilbert, G. Nigel, and Michael Mulkay, 1984.Opening Pandora's Box: A Sociological Analysis of Scientific Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.Google Scholar
  11. Green, Georgia M., 1989.Pragmatics and Natural Language Understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Hubert, Henri, and Marcel Mauss, 1964.Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function. Tr. by W. D. Halls. Chicago: U of Chicago Press. [orig. pub. 1898 inL'Année Sociologique].Google Scholar
  13. Jasper, James M., and Dorothy Nelkin, 1991.Animal Crusades. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, Wayne, 1987. Letter.The Sciences 27, 4 (July/Aug.):11.Google Scholar
  15. Kakutani, Michiko, 1989. “In the English Gulag.” Review ofIncline Our Hearts by A. N. Wilson.New York Times, Jan. 10.Google Scholar
  16. Kanigel, Robert, 1987. “Specimen No. 1913: A Rat's Brief Life in the Service of Science.”The Sciences 27, 1 (Jan./Feb.):30–37.Google Scholar
  17. Knorr-Cetina, Karin D., 1981.The Manufacture of Knowledge: An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Latour, Bruno, and Steven Woolgar, 1979.Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  19. Leach, Edmund. 1970a. “Brian Twister.” In E. Nelson Hayes and Tanya Hayes, eds.,Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Anthropologist As Hero. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, pp. 123–132.Google Scholar
  20. Leach, Edmund, 1970b.Claude Lévi-Strauss. New York: Viking Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lederer, Susan E. 1992. “Political Animals: The Shaping of Biomedical Research Literature in Twentieth-Century America.”Isis 83:61–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 1966.The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lynch, Michael, 1988. “Sacrifice and the Transformation of the Animal Body into a Scientific Object: Laboratory Culture and Ritual Practice in the Neurosciences.”Soc. Stud. Sci. 18, 2 (May):265–289.Google Scholar
  24. ——, 1985.Art and Artifact in Laboratory Science: A Study of Shop Work and Shop Talk in a Research Laboratory. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  25. Maybury-Lewis, David, 1970. “Science by Association.” In E. Nelson Hayes and Tanya Hayes, eds.,Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Anthropologist As Hero. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, pp. 133–139.Google Scholar
  26. McKinlay, Andrew, and Jonathan Potter, 1987. “Model Discourse: Interpretative Repertoires in Scientists' Conference Talk.”Soc. Stud. Sci. 17, 3 (Aug.):443–463.Google Scholar
  27. “Monkey on Space Flight in 1959 Dies at 27,” 1984.New York Times, Nov. 30.Google Scholar
  28. Phillips, Mary T., 1991.Constructing Laboratory Animals: An Ethnographic Study in the Sociology of Science. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University.Google Scholar
  29. Rollin, Bernard E., 1990.The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Science. Oxford: Oxford U Press.Google Scholar
  30. Rowsell, H. C., 1990. “Euthanasia: Acceptable and Unacceptable Methods of Killing.” In Bernard E. Rollin and M. Lynne Kesel, eds.,The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research. Vol. 1. A Survey of Scientific and Ethical Issues for Investigators. Boca Raton: CRC Press, pp. 381–391.Google Scholar
  31. Searle, John R., 1971. “Proper Names.” In Jay F. Rosenberg and Charles Travis, eds.,Readings in the Philosophy of Language. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 212–218.Google Scholar
  32. Sperling, Susan, 1988.Animal Liberators: Research and Morality. Berkeley: U of California Press.Google Scholar
  33. Strawson, P. F., 1971. “On Referring.” In Jay F. Rosenberg and Charles Travis, eds.,Readings in the Philosophy of Language. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 175–195.Google Scholar
  34. Terrace, Herbert S., 1979.Nim: A Chimpanzee Who Learned Sign Language. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  35. United Action for Animals (UAA), n.d. [c. summer, 1982]. “How ‘Unity’ Imperils Laboratory Animals on Earth and in Space.”UAA Newsletter.Google Scholar
  36. -- n.d. [c. Jan., 1983]. “Stop Animal Suffering and Fear on Spacelab.” UAA pamphlet.Google Scholar
  37. Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1965.The Blue and Brown Books. New York: Harper & Row. [1st ed. 1958].Google Scholar
  38. ——, 1958.Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. German and English text, English tr. by G.E.M. Anscomb. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary T. Phillips
    • 1
  1. 1.New York City Criminal Justice AgencyNew York

Personalised recommendations