Biological Weapons Testing at Porton Down

The Strategic Effacement of Nonhuman Animals, 1947–1955




nonhuman animal experiments, architecture, infrastructure, material-semiotic entanglements, ignorance, strategic effacement


This article focuses on the use of nonhuman animals for biological weapons testing by military scientists at Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, 1948–1955. After the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, the British state and its allies invested in new military technologies which could ensure their superiority in times of conflict. My analysis reveals the partial workings of the Porton Down Laboratory through its historical use of nonhuman animals. I demonstrate that nonhuman animals were simultaneously effaced and made visible during biological warfare experiments. This effacement and visibility was dependent on anthropocentric notions of animal subjection whereby their use in experiments made them “seen” as resources for use, yet paradoxically elicited their nonexistence as subjects. I extend the notion of “strategic ignorance” to develop a novel concept of “strategic effacement” to demonstrate this contradictory relationship which both impacted scientific “objectivity” and contributed to the continued exploitation of animals in the laboratory.


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Author Biography

Catherine Duxbury, London School of Economics and Political Science

Catherine Duxbury is a Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and teaches on the first-year interdisciplinary course there, LSE100. While not quite being able to believe her luck, she identifies primarily as an educator, but likes to dabble in the arts of academia occasionally where she is inspired by the work of many Critical Animal and feminist animal studies scholars. Over twenty years a vegan and a companion to a whole bunch of furry critters of the dog and cat variety, Cathy likes nothing more than going on long walks with her dogs and finishing with a pint at the pub.

Film still from "Operation Cauldron 1952"




How to Cite

Duxbury, Catherine. 2023. “Biological Weapons Testing at Porton Down: The Strategic Effacement of Nonhuman Animals, 1947–1955”. Humanimalia 14 (1):347–379.