LARGE-SCALE LIVESTOCK FARMING: Parameters of Life in the Plantationocene

A series of texts NON-HUMANS, HUMANS, CLIMATE, MACHINES about large-scale livestock farming from the viewpoint of theorists, artists and activists views large-scale livestock farming as an area primarily related to ethics and animal rights, but at the same time draws attention to the fact that large-scale farming is a capitalist mechanism, and is the result of economic and power-related interests and pressures that allow and normalise slaughter on a large-scale. The texts try to identify a network of actors, agents and relationships that are involved in large-scale farming and present them as a complex problem.

The series is published in parallel with the ongoing campaign All Farm Animals Deserve to Roam Free. We call to end this inhumane practice by banning all cages for farmed animals. Cages are cruel.

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The first text for the series has been written by Bob Kuřík. Bob Kuřík is a social anthropologist. He teaches in the Department of Social and Cultural Ecology in the Faculty of Humanity at Charles University. His specialist areas are protest, the internet, the environment and ethnography. He is the co-author of the book The Microphone is our Bomb: Politics and Youth Music Subcultures in Post-Socialist Czechia (Togga 2018).

Monster Farm: Parameters of Life in the Plantationocene

Bob Kuřík

From time to time, I wonder what and how the master of critique George Orwell would write if he lived now, soon after the turn of the 21st century? What allegorical satire would he create if his Animal Farm were to remain implicated, albeit in some contemporary attire? Writing an updated Animal Farm 2 would certainly be a challenge, but perhaps not in the way it would seem at first sight. While Stalinism, the totalitarian state and revolutionary dictatorships which were originally under criticism are largely a thing of the past, this does not mean that today there is nothing to write about in regard to political regimes, especially for a radical socialist like Orwell. Thus, the problem would not be in working with the subject matter. Much more insidious would be to work with the template itself; that is to say, with an actually existing form of an animal farm, which would place obstacles difficult to overcome in the path of the author’s creative work and allegorical imagination. What exactly do I mean?

Orwell wrote Animal Farm during World War II and it was first published in August 1945 (Orwell 1945), just two years before the new Act on Agriculture came into force in the UK, granting farmers subsidies to introduce new technologies into farming. It is this law that is sometimes associated with the beginning of the era of intensive agriculture, the growth and expansion of which was so extensive in the second half of the twentieth century that so-called factory farming dominated many other farming practices. Orwell, at that time, set his story on a small-scale, family farm, where Farmer Jones and his wife raised a variety of animals, ranging from pigs, goats, cows, hens and sheep to cats, dogs, ravens, horses and donkeys. It is precisely this diversity of species that the author was able to exploit in a creative way, because it provided him with the means of comprehensively portraying the dynamics of different parts of a criticized totalitarian system, from leaders to security forces, the media, workers and sages. The contemporary Orwell, on the other hand, would face the template of the industrial farm. But how could he portray anything on the basis of a single-species environment in which he would have only one actor-species of animal to work with? Indeed, even the most sinister of regimes, seeking to produce a standardized and one-dimensional human, as Orwell pointed out in his novel, 1984 (Orwell 1949), needs several types of character for its drama.

But let’s leave Orwell to Orwell. Industrial farming does not have to be a good basis for allegorical novels about political ideologies in order to tell us something about the contemporary world. Animals from farms can be something different than allegorical personifications serving only as bridges to stories of others. Intensive farming and the entire animal-industrial complex, in themselves, content an important story, as they constitute an example of one of the key problems we face today, in the Anthropocene, i.e. in the time of decisive and geologically evident influence of modern man on planet Earth. The problem is the making of plantation monocultures.(…)

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