Industrial anthropomorphism and the American "factory" farm
Alex Blanchette (Tufts University)
Paper short abstract:
Based on workplace ethnography in American “factory” hog farms, this paper traces dimensions of class politics underlying efforts to industrialize animal instincts in a post-industrial United States.
Paper long abstract:
The American "factory" farm could be described as a project of industrial anthropomorphism. In workplace planning and practice, it often figures as an explicit attempt to translate historical aesthetics and imaginaries drawn from manufacturing sectors onto the body, behavior, and mind of the pig. Based on two years of ethnographic research in some of the world's largest pork corporations, which annually raise and kill seven million hogs on the Great Plains, this paper examines attendant class struggles over porcine vitality and sociality. While working the insemination line in a breeding barn - engaging in repetitive techniques of touch designed to make sows draw in semen - laborers in these operations are tasked with using their hands to imitate the instinctual actions of sow-boar mating, realizing standardization by performing the allegedly fixed patterns of animal nature. These modes of building fixed labor practices through biomimicry - of acting out and embodying the instincts of swine - transform ideological impressions of animal instinct into a material terrain of human labor, and results in managerial attempts to make worker practices and ethics become "instinctual". While tracing the politics underlying this animalization of human social relations, the paper delineates utopian aspects of instinctual life on the factory farm, including surprising hopes for the "machinic" porcine species' ability to rekindle dream forms of industrial stability in a post-industrial United States.
Social animals and us: anthropomorphism and animal utopias