Destabilising the discourse of vivisection: A Foucauldian archaeology/genealogy of human/nonhuman animal association

Neil G. McPherson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Building on the theoretical/methodological approach to history and historical investigation evident in the work of Michel Foucault, the thesis takes the form of an archaeology/genealogy of human/nonhuman animal association, placing a particular focus on the practice of vivisection. The first chapter examines the theoretical/methodological approach taken by Foucault in his archaeological and genealogical analyses. It outlines the theoretical and methodological tools that Foucault provides, and locates the research within a coherent analytical framework consistent with a Foucauldian analysis. Chapters two, three and four constitute an archaeological investigation of the way in which the human/nonhuman animal relationship has been constructed in the Western world within the conditions of possibility of knowledge in the Renaissance, Classical and Modern ages. The historical a priori conditions of the three epistemic formations are examined and the construction of the association between man and the nonhuman animal and the practice of vivisection is considered within each. Chapter five develops the archaeological investigation of the historical formation of human/nonhuman animal association and the practice of vivisection by using Foucault’s genealogy of the Modern penal system as a backdrop to a genealogical analysis of the dispositif of Modern vivisection. The historical discourse that locates the human/nonhuman relationship within a progressivist construct of humanist reform and rational scientific development is disturbed and the historicised justification for the use of the nonhuman animal in the practice of vivisection undermined through the decentring of man as the foundational freethinking subject of knowledge. The thesis shows that the contemporary historical discourse surrounding human/nonhuman animal association and the practice of vivisection can be rethought and reconstructed by considering it within an analytical construct liberated from the transcendento-empirical constraints of conventional history. This discourse, which legitimises the practice of nonhuman animal vivisection as a result of its apparent potential to advance medicine’s ability to cure disease, is destabilised, and a counter memory constructed that identifies vivisection as a mechanism of surveillance used to discipline the human population. As such, the thesis constitutes an alternative history of human/nonhuman animal association and the practice of vivisection, one that allows them to be spoken of and thought of in a different way. The counter memory produced opens up a space from which political resistance to the contemporary practice of vivisection can emerge, free from the anthropological constraints of the Modern age.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Destabilising the discourse of vivisection: A Foucauldian archaeology/genealogy of human/nonhuman animal association'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this