Sentient commodities : human-livestock relations from birth to slaughter in commercial and hobby production
This thesis is a sociological exploration of how people involved in commercial and hobby livestock production, in Northeast Scotland, make sense of their relations with livestock, from birth to slaughter. I carried out an ethnographic study that combines fieldwork and unstructured interviewing to elicit how mart workers, auctioneers, vets, farmers, stockmen, hobby farmers and slaughter workers regard and interact with livestock. Although livestock are the raw materials of production, I show that the commodity status of livestock is variable and that people's relationships with livestock are complex, dynamic and ambiguous. One of the main reasons for ambiguity is that livestock are sentient and social begins: they have the capacity to engage in social relations with each other and with those who work closest with them. In effect, livestock are commodified sentient beings but to draw attention to people's difficulty in classifying and relating to them, I suggest they are sentient commodities. I argue that people's attitude, feeling and behaviour, towards livestock is systematically related to the place they, and their animals, occupy in the commercial and non-commercial production process. For instance, breeding animals are more likely to be regarded as individuals whilst slaughter animals are anonymously processed as part of a de-individualised batch. Similarly, people attend to express varying degrees of emotional attachment to livestock at the breeding end of the process and varying degrees of emotional detachment towards livestock destined for slaughter. Any animals, however, that requires additional handling or deviates from the routine is included to stand out from the herd, will acquire more meaning for the worker, and will become more than 'just an animal'. People who work with livestock are therefore faced with the challenge of negotiating the contradictory demands of being empathetic carers and economic producers of livestock.