Centrum för genusvetenskap

Changing Animal Bodies: Breeding Responses to Environmental, Economic and Social Pressures

Animals are often used as indicators of environmental quality. For example the presence, absence and abundance of different fish in a river are used as indicators of the environmental quality and ecological robustness of the river and catchment. Following this theme, this project explores how particular animals understood as speaking for wider relations. For example, over the last 120 years milk cows have tripled in weight and increased their milk production tenfold. We have witnessed the advent of the broiler chicken that reaches slaughter weight in 38 days and even the honeybee is now 150% larger than it was in the 1890s. Animal bodies are therefore clearly not fixed but complex combinations of nature and culture, shifting overtime. These changes are the products of on going breeding programs in response to different social, economic and environmental pressures. We might therefore understand animal bodies not as fixed units of genetic material but as materialisations of diffuse natural/cultural processes. This shift in understanding animal bodies from units of genetic material to natural/cultural materialisation is important because it emphasises how animals are not merely the result of farming but are the active responses of farming to historical and contemporary challenges. Thinking about animal bodies in this way allows them to operate as indicators of how farmers respond to the diverse and diffuse circumstances of farming.

This project uses three cases to illustrate how farming has, is currently, and might respond to changing socio-environmental contexts. These cases will examine breeding strategies as a response to 1) the changing economic circumstances of poultry production, 2) the contested politics of traditional breeds and 3) the environmental pressures faced by pollinating insects.

In a collaboration between Uppsala University, (Centrum för genusvetenskap) and SLU, (Stad och Land) the project will be conducted by Jacob Bull, Elsa Coimbra, Camilla Eriksson, Andrea Petitt, Joel Nord, Helena Nordström Källström.

The 3 cases will be led by:

  1. the changing economic circumstances of poultry production, (Helena Nordström Källström, SLU)

  2. the contested politics of traditional breeds (Camilla Eriksson, SLU/UU)
  3. the environmental pressures faced by pollinating insects (Jacob Bull, UU).


2015-2017 (FORMAS)