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Choosing and rejecting cattle and sheep: changing discourses and practices of (de)selection in pedigree livestock breeding


  • Lewis Holloway


  • Carol Morris


  • Ben Gilna


  • David Gibbs



This paper examines the discourses and practices of pedigree livestock breeding, focusing on beef cattle and sheep in the UK, concentrating on an under-examined aspect of this—the deselection and rejection of some animals from future breeding populations. In the context of exploring how animals are valued and represented in different ways in relation to particular agricultural knowledge-practices, it focuses on deselecting particular animals from breeding populations, drawing attention to shifts in such knowledge-practices related to the emergence of “genetic” techniques in livestock breeding which are arguably displacing “traditional” visual and experiential knowledge’s of livestock animals. The paper situates this discussion in the analytical framework provided by Foucault’s conception of “biopower,” exploring how interventions in livestock populations aimed at the fostering of domestic animal life are necessarily also associated with the imperative that certain animals must die and not contribute to the future reproduction of their breed. The “geneticization” of livestock breeding produces new articulations of this process associated with different understandings of animal life and the possibilities of different modes of intervention in livestock populations. Genetic techniques increasingly quantify and rationalize processes of selection and deselection, and affect how animals are perceived and valued both as groups and as individuals. The paper concludes by emphasizing that the valuation of livestock animals is contested, and that the entanglement of “traditional” and “genetic” modes of valuation means that there are multiple layers of valuation and (de)selection involved in breeding knowledge-practices. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Suggested Citation

  • Lewis Holloway & Carol Morris & Ben Gilna & David Gibbs, 2011. "Choosing and rejecting cattle and sheep: changing discourses and practices of (de)selection in pedigree livestock breeding," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(4), pages 533-547, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:28:y:2011:i:4:p:533-547
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-010-9298-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. R. Youatt, 2008. "Counting Species: Biopower and the Global Biodiversity Census," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 17(3), pages 393-417, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Julie Labatut & Germain Tesnière & Eva Boxenbaum, 2015. "The role of evaluation devices in the creation of new institutions: breeding contracts under the “genomic” era in animal genetics
      [Le rôle des dispositifs d'évaluation dans la création de nouvelles
      ," Post-Print hal-01135352, HAL.
    2. Lewis Holloway & Christopher Bear & Katy Wilkinson, 2014. "Robotic milking technologies and renegotiating situated ethical relationships on UK dairy farms," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 31(2), pages 185-199, June.


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