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What is bovine Tuberculosis? Using the ethnographic methodology to explore a disease-in-the-making

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date12/2020
Number of pages330
Awarding Institution
Award date8/12/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is arguably the most pressing and contentious livestock disease in England. Since the 1970s, controversy has developed between government, farmers, vets and wildlife groups about the role of badgers in spreading the disease to cattle and how this is managed. The controversy has intensified over the past decade with the introduction of a new statutory disease eradication strategy for bTB, which includes the licencing of badger culling.
To date, both policy and research on bTB has widely assumed the singularity of the disease, and suggested that controversy arises from different perspectives about the disease and its management. In contrast, guided by insights from ‘empirical ontology’, I investigate the multiplicity of bTB and how it is made through disease management practices. This research centres on rich empirical material gathered through a multi-sited ethnography that followed bTB through practice, including: skin testing, risk-based trading, evaluating badger culling policy, shooting and cage trapping badgers, anti-cull activism, gassing badgers, and citizen science. Each chapter traces how a practice is being undertaken and how the practice contributes to the making of bTB. I argue that these practices make disease realities which are uniform, controllable and scalable, whilst simultaneously uncertain, unstable and local. These realities are then variously foregrounded and backgrounded according to long-standing perspectives of the disease.
I suggest that interventions in practices that explicitly consider bTB as a ‘disease-in-the-making’ could shift disease realities to improve bTB management, and help to move beyond the impasse surrounding the controversy. I also put forward specific interventions in disease management practices, some of which feature in the Government strategy for the control of bTB, updated in 2020.

Bibliographic note

I request an embargo because I work part time for the Civil Service and have signed an agreement which does not permit me to make the thesis publicly available until the Civil Service has reviewed it. As a Civil Servant, I am committed to adhere to the Civil Service code of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. To ensure there is no conflict of interest between myself and the code, the Civil Service and I signed an agreement detailing that I will share my thesis with them prior to publication so that I can be informed if the publication of the thesis puts me at risk of breaking the code. If there is a risk, the Civil Service will inform me of how to manage it. To keep my side of the agreement, I request an embargo for 1 year to provide enough time for the Civil Service to read the thesis and inform me of any risks.