Lewis Holloway, Carol Morris – Contesting genetic knowledge-practices in livestock breeding

Contesting genetic knowledge-practices in livestock breeding: biopower, biosocial collectivities, and heterogeneous resistances

Lewis Holloway, Carol Morris

Received 7 February 2011; in revised form 15 April 2011; published online 7
November 2011

Abstract. Cattle and sheep breeders in the UK and elsewhere
increasingly draw on genetic techniques in order to make breeding decisions.
Many breeders support such techniques, while others argue against them for a
variety of reasons, including their preference for the ‘traditions’ of
visual-based and pedigree-based selections. Meanwhile, even for those
institutions and breeders who promote genetic techniques, the outcomes are not
always as predicted. We build on our recent use of Foucault’s discussions of
biopower to examine the effects of the introduction of genetic techniques in UK
livestock breeding in order to begin to explore the diffuse and capillary nature
of resistance within relations of biopower. We focus specifically on how
resistance and contestation can be understood through the joint lenses of
biopower and an understanding of livestock breeding as knowledge-practices
enacted within heterogeneous biosocial collectivities. In some instances these
collectivities coalesce around shared endeavour, such as increasing the valency
of genetic evaluation within livestock breeding. Yet such mixed collectivities
also open up opportunities for counter-conduct: heterogeneous resistances to and
contestations of genetic evaluation as something represented as progressive and
inevitable. We focus on exploring such modes of resistance using detailed
empirical research with livestock breeders and breeding institutions. We
demonstrate how in different and specific ways geneticisation becomes
problematised, and is contested and made more complex, through the
knowledge-practices of breeders, the bodies of animals, and the complex
relationships between different institutions in livestock breeding and rearing.

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