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The great cat mutilation: sex, social movements and the utilitarian calculus in 1970s New York City

  • MICHAEL PETTIT (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In 1976, the animal liberation movement made experiments conducted on cats at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) one of its earliest successful targets. Although the scientific consensus was that Aronson was not particularly cruel or abusive, the AMNH was selected due to the visibility of the institution, the pet-like status of the animals, and the seeming perversity of studying non-human sexuality. I contextualize the controversy in terms of the changing meaning of utilitarian ethics in justifying animal experimentation. The redefinition of ‘surgeries’ as ‘mutilations’ reflected an encounter between the behavioural sciences and social movements. One of the aims of the late 1960s civil rights movements was to heighten Americans’ sensitivity to differing experiences of suffering. The AMNH protesters drew inspiration from a revived utilitarian ethics of universal organismic pain across the lines of species. This episode was also emblematic of the emergence of an anti-statist, neo-liberal ethos in science. Invoking the rhetoric of the 1970s tax revolt, animal liberationists attacked Aronson's ability to conduct basic research with no immediate biomedical application. Without denying the violence involved, an exclusive focus on reading the experiments through the lens of utilitarianism obscures what ethics animated Aronson's research.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Steven Epstein , Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007

Wendy Kline , Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women's Health in the Second Wave, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010

Michelle Murphy , Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012

Steven Shapin , The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008

Philip Mirowski , Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011

Susan J. Pearson , The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011

Daryl Michael Scott , Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880–1996, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997

Marga Vicedo , The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013, pp. 4368

James M. Jasper , The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 78

Michael Power , The Audit Society: Rituals of Verification, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

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BJHS Themes
  • ISSN: 2058-850X
  • EISSN: 2056-354X
  • URL: /core/journals/bjhs-themes
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