Topic: Care as a driver of controversy: researching and contesting badgers and bovine TB in the UK
Keywords: animal health, care, policy, polarization, conservation
The controversy over whether to cull wild badgers to help control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in British cattle herds has been ongoing for nearly fifty years. This question has plagued several generations of politicians, policymakers, scientists, veterinarians, conservationists and animal advocates since they learned that badgers can carry bTB in the early 1970s. Questions of what is known, who knows, who cares, who to trust and what should be done about the complex connections between cows, badgers and the microbe M.bovis have been the source of scientific, veterinary, policy, and public debates ever since. While these debates have overtly focused on questions of evidence and expertise, questions of care have remained implicit, despite their repeated centrality in shaping policy decisions over the past forty years. This is curious given the increasingly heated and polarised nature of the public controversy, particularly since the Coalition government’s decision to return to badger culling in 2010.
In this paper I will argue that changing intersections, alliances and divergences between the multiple cultures of care have shaped policy at crucial points over the history of the badger/bTB controversy. These involve the caring practices of three intersecting epistemic communities who have been involved with policy and public debates over badger/bTB since the 1970s: animal health, disease ecology and badger protection. Even within these three groupings shifting intersections between cultures of care are discernable, aligning with critical shifts over the history of the controversy. While most scholarship on care in science, medicine, conservation and agriculture focuses on its importance for building positive practices and connections between humans, other animals and wider environments, some work has explored more violent and conflicted forms of care (van Dooren, Keck, Haraway, Eva). I draw upon this work to argue that in recent years care has been a significant driver of conflict and controversy over badgers and bTB as its cultures of care have diverged over the years. Those involved care deeply, but who or what they care about and indeed what practices constitute care in the first place are very different. A sense of shared care within these epistemic communities may be co-constituted with beliefs in an absence of care between these groups, fostering mutual hostility. I argue that these caring drivers of conflict have further enabled the entanglement of badger/bTB with adjacent environmental and agricultural controversies and wider processes of political polarisation over the past decade.