Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 202–223 | Cite as

Humanity at the Edge: The Moral Laboratory of Feeding Precarious Lives

  • Mette N. Svendsen
  • Iben M. Gjødsbøl
  • Mie S. Dam
  • Laura E. Navne
Original Paper

Abstract

At the heart of anthropology and the social sciences lies a notion of human existence according to which humans and animals share the basic need for food, but only humans have the capacity for morality. Based on fieldwork in a pig laboratory, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and a dementia nursing home, we follow practices of feeding precarious lives lacking most markers of human personhood, including the exercise of moral judgment. Despite the absence of such markers, laboratory researchers and caregivers in these three sites do not abstain from engaging in questions about the moral status of the piglets, infants, and people with dementia in their care. They continually negotiate how their charges belong to the human collectivity and thereby challenge the notion of ‘the human’ that is foundational to anthropology. Combining analytical approaches that do not operate with a fixed boundary between human and animal value and agency with approaches that focus on human experience and virtue ethics, we argue that ‘the human’ at stake in the moral laboratory of feeding precarious lives puts ‘the human’ in anthropology at disposal for moral experimentation.

Keywords

Human personhood Moral laboratory Animal experimentation Multi-species Neonatal intensive care Dementia care 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mette N. Svendsen
    • 1
  • Iben M. Gjødsbøl
    • 1
  • Mie S. Dam
    • 1
  • Laura E. Navne
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Public Health, Centre for Medical Science and Technology StudiesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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