How can we better manage zoonotic disease? Using an ethnography of bovine tuberculosis to confront what disease is and how it is made through practice

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter


The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the increasing threat and impact of zoonotic disease, defined as those that can cross between animals and people. Whilst COVID-19 is a new example of this, people have been living with zoonotic diseases throughout evolutionary history. Therefore, what lessons can be learned from the management of existing zoonotic disease to inform the management of future ones? My
PhD research explored the management of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and I will use this Fellowship to develop key outputs from my PhD on the role of social science in disease management.
As with COVID-19, the management of bTB in England is high profile and contentious. Since the 1970s, controversy has developed about the role of badgers in spreading the disease to cattle and how this is managed. This controversy has intensified since 2012 when the Government licenced the shooting of badgers. Policy and research treat the controversy as a result of conflicting perspectives of the disease. My approach defamiliarises the controversy and the disease by exploring what bTB is and how it is made. Through qualitative, ethnographic research I show how policymakers, vets, wildlife groups, anti-cull activists and farmers produce different versions of the disease through practice. These versions raise difficulties and induce pain: the difficulty of defining disease risk; the antagonisms between people killing badgers and people opposing the killing of badgers; and the pain when livestock are killed for 'disease control'. Confronting how controversy arises from mismatches between versions of the disease provides opportunity to make less painful versions of bTB and to improve disease management.
My research has direct implications for bTB stakeholders, and provides insights for the management of zoonotic diseases more broadly. My aim for this Fellowship is to extend my research impact into the field of zoonotic disease. To achieve this I will use this Fellowship to:
1. Increase the policy and societal impacts of my PhD research by presenting findings at regional bTB groups and publishing an open-access infographic of my research on the 'TB Knowledge Exchange' website. I will also write a policy brief (POSTnote) and host a seminar with government officials to share my findings and consider the role of social science in zoonotic disease management such as avian influenza and swine flu.
2. Develop and disseminate my PhD research by publishing five articles in academic journals, and presenting at international conferences on rural geography and bTB. This work will contribute to the fields of multispecies relations and zoonotic disease management, and develop
opportunities for collaboration.
3. Undertake limited supplementary research. In 2020 there was a policy change to roll out badger vaccination in current badger cull zones. Farmer involvement in badger vaccination is vital for the policy to be rolled out, but at present there is strong resistance to the change. I will
undertake research with farmers to explore barriers and enablers to their involvement in vaccination. This research has been designed with a government agency and the National Trust to ensure it meets policy needs.
4. Forge an interdisciplinary research agenda related to the management of zoonotic disease. I will bring together researchers from multiple disciplines for a roundtable to explore cross-cutting challenges related to zoonosis management. Subsequently, we will publish a research agenda about how to address these challenges through social sciences, which will inform my future funding applications.
5. Develop my academic skills and career as an academic through mentorship and training in digital research methods. To refine my teaching skills, I will deliver two guest lectures on department modules. I will also dedicate time to writing future grant applications.


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