Law and the Laboratory: The British Vivisection Inspectorate in the 1890s

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The 1876 British Cruelty to Animals Act introduced an unprecedented administrative system to supervise any experiment “calculated to give pain” to a living animal. The act, which was in force for a hundred years, established a tight system of control over animal experimentation, including a small, but vigorous, inspectorate. This article explores the relations between bureaucracy and the production of knowledge through the correspondences, memos, and notes taken by two principal inspectors under the act. The inspectors belonged to the worlds of both law and science. Coming from within the scientific profession, their close ties to medical social circles not only evoked critique but also helped them fulfill their tasks and gain access to research laboratories. Archival records examined here for the first time show that, although the inspectors downplayed animals’ pain in physiological laboratories, the inspectorate played an important role in shaping the experimental space and practice, thus facilitating the production of “ethical scientific facts.” The inspectors’ work modeled the new legal regime of animal experimentation regulation, making them indispensable agents in the act’s coproduction of knowledge and public order.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)933–963
Number of pages31
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


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