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Herding Species: Biosecurity, Posthuman Labor, and the American Industrial Pig

By Alex Blanchette

Cite As:
Blanchette, Alex. 2015. “Herding Species: Biosecurity, Posthuman Labor, and the American Industrial Pig.” Cultural Anthropology 30, no. 4: 640–669.


This article examines microbial ecologies and industrial ontologies as they unfold in the animal worlds created by the American factory farm. Based in a hundred-mile radius region of the U.S. Great Plains—where some seven million hogs are annually manufactured from prelife to postdeath—it unpacks agribusiness managers’ varied modes of socio-ecological intervention once porcine overproduction causes disease to breach the indoor spaces of confinement barns. Maintaining the genetic potency of modern industrial animals requires managers to appraise how the pig has become intertwined with wind patterns, terrain gradations, and humanity. One result is that corporations are enacting intimate biosecurity protocols in workers’ domestic homes, a move that frames human sociality as a reservoir sheltering porcine disease. Workers are reimagined as a threat to the vitality of industrial hogs in ways that subtly alter the value of human livelihood and autonomy in this region. To situate how rural work became ambiguously posthuman, this essay develops a political economy of speciation. It inhabits managers’ abstract technologies that allow them to become attuned to the industrial pig as a fragile and world-defining species in need of new types of laboring subjectivity, while analyzing the postanthropocentric politics of class and value in a zone reorganized around forms of capitalist animality.


labor; animals; social class; anthropocentrism; biosecurity; industrial agriculture; United States