American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 56 illustrations Published: April 2020

Author: Alex Blanchette

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies > Animal Studies

In the 1990s a small midwestern American town approved the construction of a massive pork complex, where almost 7 million hogs are birthed, raised, and killed every year. In Porkopolis Alex Blanchette explores how this rural community has been reorganized around the life and death cycles of corporate pigs. Drawing on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork, Blanchette immerses readers into the workplaces that underlie modern meat, from slaughterhouses and corporate offices to artificial insemination barns and bone-rendering facilities. He outlines the deep human-hog relationships and intimacies that emerge through intensified industrialization, showing how even the most mundane human action, such as a wayward touch, could have serious physical consequences for animals. Corporations' pursuit of a perfectly uniform, standardized pig—one that can yield materials for over 1000 products—creates social and environmental instabilities that transform human lives and livelihoods. Throughout Porkopolis, which includes dozens of images by award-winning photographer Sean Sprague, Blanchette uses factory farming to rethink the fraught state of industrial capitalism in the United States today.


Porkopolis is a rigorous and insightful ethnography of food production that connects the politics of labor to ambitious theorizations of political economy and biopolitical governance. Beautifully written and highly accessible, Porkopolis is a field-defining work in animal studies, the anthropology of labor, and food studies. An outstanding book.” — Gabriel N. Rosenberg, author of The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America

“In Porkopolis, the industrial pig is not just vertically integrated; it is pervasive, conditioning hog and human bodies and saturating workers' social lives and living spaces. Exquisitely researched and indelibly written, Alex Blanchette's arresting ethnography challenges us to see industrial meat as a new biopolitical regime, the next chapter in capitalism's quest to dominate nature by standardizing life.” — Heather Paxson, author of The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

“As a human-animal researcher, I found this book exciting in its examination of how labor and class shapes human nonhuman entanglement in the industrial setting, and the novel employment of multispecies sensibilities to offer an alternative perspective on the factory farm. Porkopolis might also be read as a twenty-first century world-making process of domestication, radically co-shaping environments, pigs, humans, and other species in the process.”

— Paul G. Keil, Anthropology Book Forum

"What is remarkable about Porkopolis is that Blanchette never makes the predictable point but instead uses his thorough ethnography to question many of the taken-for-granted assumptions both popular media and the scholarly literature have made about factory farms. In the process, he has generated the beginning steps toward a new approach toward understanding the relations between industrial forms of capitalism and nature." — Ilana Gershon, Current Anthropology

"The clarity and analytical power of Porkopolis are impressive achievements. . . . It is not surprising to learn that Blanchette’s peers consider him one of the finest ethnographers of his generation. The book is crafted with a perspicacity and empathy reminiscent of Munro’s short stories." — Troy Vettese, Boston Review

"An even-handed exploration of an issue usually dominated by extremes. . . . That said, even Blanchette’s moral generosity and even-handed treatment of the pork industry cannot powder and perfume the everyday horrors contained within. . . . Blanchette may not have set out to write an argument for de-industrializing pigs, but he achieved it." — Jennifer Graham, The Hippo

"The book obliges the thoughtful reader to ponder how this remarkable departure from normal biological life could ever have come about—all for the sake of cheap meat and profit—and what we might need to do (if ever we could) about changing it. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals." — J. A. Mather, Choice

Porkopolis is very well written, powerful, and provocative and is an exceptionally insightful look at industrial capitalism through the lens of human–animal relations. It offers a truly unique perspective into the world that industrial farming has made and remade.” — Steve Striffler, American Anthropologist

Porkopolis is a triumph. It is exceptionally readable and engaging in spite of the gravity of its subject matter. It is also creative and challenging in the most haunting and curious ways.”

— Claire Bunschoten, Social Text


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alex Blanchette is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Tufts University and coeditor of How Nature Works: Rethinking Labor on a Troubled Planet.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations  vii
Acknowledgments  ix
Preface. Watching Hogs Watch Workers  xiii
A Note on Photography  xvii
Introduction. The "Factory" Farm  1
Part I. Boar
1. The Dover Flies  33
2. The Herd: Intimate Biosecurity and Posthuman Labor  45
Part II. Sow
3. Somos Puercos  73
4. Stimulation: Instincts in Production  89
Part III. Hog
5. Lutalyse  121
6. Stockperson: Love, Muscles, and the Industrial Runt  137
Part IV. Carcass
7. Miss Wicked  167
8. Biological System: Breaking in at the End of Industrial Time  177
Part V. Viscera
9. Maybe Some Blood, but Mostly Grease  203
10. Lifecycle: On Using All of the Porcine Species  211
Epilogue. The (De-)Industrialization of the World  239
Notes  247
References  265
Index  287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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