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The Anthropology of “Porkopolis”

November 12, 2019

As America’s pork industry is continually pushed to ever greater production, so are the human beings who labor to breed, care for, and slaughter these animals.

By Cydney Livingston

Hog Confinement

Alex Blanchette, cultural anthropologist and lecturer in anthropology and environmental studies at Tufts University, is a scholar of pork production.

Blanchette, who gave a talk hosted by the Ethnography Workshop at Duke on November 4th, said there is an intimate relationship between pig and person. The quality of the factory farm worker’s life is tied to that of the porcine species.

Blanchette’s current work will be published in the 2020 ethnographic book – Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the “Factory” Farm. The book is focused on the consequences of human labor and identity that are bound to the pig – an animal which has become more industrialized over time due to corporations’ goal of a mass produced, standardized pig predictable in nature, uniform in existence, and easy to slaughter.

A common practice in factory farming is the ‘runting’ of litters, genetically making piglets smaller to increase the number each sow produces. But this practice has propelled a fundamental shift in the need for human workers to act as neonatal nurses, what Blanchette calls “external prosthetics,” to care for the newborns. Blanchette described one extraordinary worker responsible for taking care of piglet litters, saving the weak and deformed after birth. She has taken measures so drastic as to give a piglet mouth-to-mouth, incubate them in her pockets, and quickly form body-casts out of duct-tape for the small creatures. This worker has had the chance to study over 400,000 piglets in her seven-year career, encountering conditions of the pig body that no scientist has seen in real life ... Continue reading on the Duke Research Blog

Cydney LivingstonCYDNEY LIVINGSTON is a sophomore at Duke University from Wadesboro, North Carolina. As a student in Lou Brown’s Fall 2019 course, “Ethnojournalism,” taught at the Forum for Scholars and Publics, she is researching the little-understood role of mobile service technicians in the turkey farming industry. Her curiosity about the broader topic of factory farming inspired her to attend this lecture sponsored by the Cultural Anthropology Ethnography Workshop.