Coalitions of touch: Balancing restraint and haptic soothing in the veterinary clinic

Nick Llewellyn*, Jon Hindmarsh, Robin Burrow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article responds to recent calls to further incorporate the study of animal health care into the sociology of health and illness. It focuses on a theme with a long tradition in medical sociology, namely clinical communication, but explores matters distinctive to veterinary practice. Drawing on video recordings of 60 consultations across three small animal veterinary clinics in the United Kingdom, we explore how clients and veterinarians (or “vets”) fashion fleeting “coalitions of touch,” that aptly position the animal to enable the performance of medical work, often in the face of physical resistance. Building on recent developments in the study of haptic sociality, we analyse how care and emotional concern for animal patients is communicated through various forms of embodied action; thus, how the problematics of forced care and restraint are mitigated through distinctive ways of touching and holding animal patients. Moreover, while prior studies of small animal veterinary work have highlighted the significance of talk within the clinician–animal–client triad, we reveal the fundamentally embodied and collaborative work of managing and controlling patients during sometimes intense and fast-moving episodes of veterinary care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-744
Number of pages20
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are indebted to the vets and clients that participated in the research, for granting us access to the activities of the veterinary clinic. Likewise, we appreciate the care with which this article was managed by the editor and read by anonymous reviewers, whose comments were very helpful in strengthing the paper. The research was funded by the University of Warwick.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Foundation for SHIL (SHIL).


  • animals
  • communication
  • ethnomethodology
  • haptic sociality
  • touch
  • veterinarians
  • veterinary clinic

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