The Politics of Life and Livelihood on the American Factory Farm

Alex Blanchette, PhD Candidate, University of Chicago and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, Tufts University (Starting in 2013), and Weatherhead Resident Scholar, SAR

Colloquium, SAR Boardroom

Wednesday, October 17, 2012, 12:00–1:00 pm, Free

Alex Blanchette’s research explores the idea of the factory in the American factory farm, tracking this vexed concept as it is enlivened within the workplaces of some of the world’s largest pork corporations. His talk will address issues of worker identity amidst the labor process of an industrial farrowing barn, where thousands of genetically standardized piglets are born every day. Here laborers are tasked with preserving the lives of the weakest piglets that would perish without human assistance. Many public detractors of industrial agriculture speculate that repetitive exposure to these death-ridden forms of dirty work must alienate workers from the ability to feel creaturely empathy, and perhaps even from the value of life itself. However, Blanchette found the opposite: people exhibited a steadfast moral attachment to preserving and maximizing animal life, and practiced their ideals to the point of exhaustion. Through an ethnographic analysis of craft techniques for preserving weak-bodied piglets, set alongside discussions with workers about the nature of the industrialized animal, this talk offers a theory of the forms of life generated by the factory farm in order to think about contemporary conditions of labor in the United States.

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