Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World
Kath Weston is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. A Guggenheim Fellow and two-time winner of the Ruth Benedict Prize, Weston is the author of several books, including Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor; Gender in Real Time: Power and Transience in a Visual Age; and Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship.
The use of electronic devices to tag and track millions of animals bred for human consumption has come to symbolize the loss of an intimacy that ostensibly once prevailed between animals and the farmers who raised them during an earlier, less mechanized era of food production. In the United States, people often contrast face-to-face animal–human relations on small farms with the alienated relations they attribute to the “modern” bureaucratic oversight that prevails on factory farms. Yet even the most high-tech surveillance schemes can generate their own forms of intimacy: techno-intimacies that produce “close” knowledge of animals from a technologically mediated distance. To understand how, this chapter examines the deployment of surveillance technologies during the attempt to establish a National Animal Identification System in the United States. Rather than trying to get reacquainted with the food we eat by settling for high-tech traceback schemes and/or searching for connection on the artisanal side of a premodern/modern divide, this chapter argues that there are compelling reasons to foster more intimate engagements with the conditions of food production, regardless of the abstracted or face-to-face relations involved. For it is the conditions under which animals grow that have most to say about the increasingly industrialized, often impoverished fabrication of their bodies, not the intimacies generated through surveillance or even some nodding acquaintance with a harried farmer.