Knowing cows: transformative mobilizations of human and non‐human bodies in an emotionography of the slaughterhouse
Eimear Mc Loughlin (University of Exeter)
Paper short abstract:
The paper will explore the complex emotions that emerge in the killing of cattle in an industrial slaughterhouse. These emotions complicate the commodification of bovine bodies as workers recognize the individuality of, while simultaneously objectifying, the cattle in their care.
Paper long abstract:
This 'emotionography' of the slaughterhouse elucidates how the identities of both human and non‐human individuals are constructed by line and lairage workers. Hegemonic masculine ideals that underpin slaughterhouse work mean that the emotions of workers as well as the emotional experience of cattle are either denied, diminished or repressed. Based on fieldwork in an Irish slaughterhouse, I articulate how the industrial slaughter of animals entangles human and non‐human life in metamorphic processes that seek to diminish the emotionality of individuals, maintaining the boundary between human/non‐human animals. The transformation of cows to commodities and humans to ideal slaughter workers is an uneasy and incomplete process that requires daily maintenance in the slaughterhouse. These transformations simultaneously pacify the emotional toll of killing non‐human individuals and reinforce perceptions of cows as sellable, killable and edible in the commodification of bovine bodies. Amidst the relative absence of emotions in slaughterhouse ethnographies, this paper reveals how emotions emerge, erupt and confound the act of slaughtering cattle for slaughterhouse workers unsettling categorizations of masculinity and 'animals as food'.