Facing animal research: Levinas and technologies of effacement
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This chapter proposes that encountering the Other through the face can be conditioned by social and built technologies. In “The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights,” Emmanuel Levinas relates his experience as a prisoner of war, held in a forced-labor camp in Nazi Germany. He contrasts being denied his humanity by other humans, “called free” (DF, 152), while being recognized as human—indeed as a friend—by a dog the prisoners named Bobby. The episode suggests that though the concept of the face applies to humans, the face is not enough for facing, at least not in the setting of the camp. By contrast, the prisoners seem able to face and be faced by Bobby, even if Levinas remains inconclusive about whether the face applies to animals elsewhere. It follows that the face is operating less like a property, and more like a capacity, a mode as Levinas calls it. But what conditions encountering an Other in this mode? If the face is neither sufficient for facing, nor prior to it, then what conditions facing (or effacing)? I propose that social structures, techniques, architectures, professional roles, and so on matter in coming to face (or efface) the Other. I conclude this from analyzing human-animal encounters in a scientific space of exception: the animal lab. Building on empirical accounts of animal research, I propose that animal research is populated by what I call “technologies of effacement.” These include: (1) built architectures; (2) entering and exit procedures; (3) protective garments and equipment; (4) identification and labeling techniques; and (5) experimental protocols. These technologies serve other manifest ends, but they operate to condition encounters between humans and animals in the lab: they help block the face of humans and animals.