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Dialectics of disassembly: heifer-care protocols and the alienation of value in a village dairy cooperative


  • Tad Mutersbaugh
  • Lauren Martin


This paper examines ‘protocols’—instructions that inform project recipients about how technology is to be used. Our case study of ‘heifer-care’ protocols associated with a microdairy scheme raises two questions. First, we ask how these protocols effect a disassembly of social relations within the village—‘poisoning’ them, as coop members put it. Second, we raise the question of persistence: namely, how were village participants in the microdairy cooperative able to continue for over fifteen years despite a failure to produce milk and the deleterious effects upon village social relations? To address this paradox, we examine protocols from the standpoints of both science and technology studies (STS) and labor-process studies(LPS). STS supply a ‘boundary object’ concept that helps to explain protocol persistence; LPS provide a theory of alienation that furthers our understanding of how protocols alienate labor—via a spatiotemporal dislocation of value—and shape coop members’ subjective experience of development. By joining these theories, we hope to provide insights into the operations of protocols and suggest a theoretical liaison between STS and LPS that would provide STS with a better theory of subjective experience and LPS theory with an improved poststructuralist framing. As a matter of praxis, we also show how coop members recognize, in time, the mechanisms through which value is dislocated and respond by reworking their engagements with NGOs to capture a share of the value produced by their labor. Keywords: cooperatives, companion species, political ecology, STS, labor process studies, political economy, alienation, assemblage, rent theory, Mexico-Oaxaca

Suggested Citation

  • Tad Mutersbaugh & Lauren Martin, 2012. "Dialectics of disassembly: heifer-care protocols and the alienation of value in a village dairy cooperative," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(3), pages 723-740, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:3:p:723-740

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