UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A grammar of animals : dramatism, animal experimentation, and the narrative of biomedical progress Bowen, Warren


Using Kenneth Burke's dramatistic understanding of language as action, and drawing from literature in rhetoric of science and medicine, this thesis argues that the rhetoric of biomedical researchers, advocates, and popularizers perpetuates a progress narrative when using and advocating for the use of experimental animals that disregards animal interests and ethics. First, this thesis examines how transgenic experimental animals are rhetorically constructed as the place, and researchers as the means, of biomedical data, which provides discursive distance from the acts of experimentation. Likewise, the terms affixed to research animals, such as “Oncomouse,” “model,” and even “rodent” function to reflect realities of these research animals that creates discursive distance as they are used to produce knowledge. Second, this thesis examines how biomedical researchers and advocates who disagree about the efficacy of the animal model are united in their rejection of serious animal ethics in biomedical research. Critics of animal experimentation are made into monsters, while serious animal ethics itself is considered either monstrous or irrelevant to biomedical inquiry by groups of researchers who otherwise disagree about animal experimentation's usefulness in biomedical research. Third, it examines how the genre of popular biomedical entertainment seeks to persuade non-expert audiences to be entertained by biomedical research using animals. In addition, biomedical research and animal entertainment industries such as zoos and pet production have a complex, mutually beneficial relationship that makes use of animals to produce knowledge and entertainment at the expense of animal interests. This thesis concludes that the narrative of biomedical progress is underpinned by powerful rhetorical forces applied to animals that reject the serious consideration of their interests that could otherwise complicate such a narrative. A suggested way forward could be a more complex biomedical narrative that includes serious animal ethics as part of biomedicine's “moral progress”.

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