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Animals 2011, 1(1), 83-101; doi:10.3390/ani1010083

From “Animal Machines” to “Happy Meat”? Foucault’s Ideas of Disciplinary and Pastoral Power Applied to ‘Animal-Centred’ Welfare Discourse

Faculty of Social Sciences, Open University, UK
Received: 22 December 2010 / Accepted: 6 January 2011 / Published: 11 January 2011
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This paper considers some recent developments in ‘animal-centred’ welfare science, which acknowledges the sentience of ‘farmed’ animals, alongside the emergence of a market for ‘happy meat’, which offers assurances of care and consideration for ‘farmed’ animals to concerned consumers. Both appear to challenge the instrumental ‘machine’ model characteristic of ‘factory farming’. However, in both cases, this paper argues that these discourses of consideration for the well-being of ‘farmed’ animals work to appease and deflect ethical concerns while facilitating the continued exploitation of ‘farmed’ animals.


Michel Foucault’s work traces shifting techniques in the governance of humans, from the production of ‘docile bodies’ subjected to the knowledge formations of the human sciences (disciplinary power), to the facilitation of self-governing agents directed towards specified forms of self-knowledge by quasi-therapeutic authorities (pastoral power). While mindful of the important differences between the governance of human subjects and the oppression of nonhuman animals, exemplified in nonhuman animals’ legal status as property, this paper explores parallel shifts from disciplinary to pastoral regimes of human-‘farmed’ animal relations. Recent innovations in ‘animal-centred’ welfare science represent a trend away from the ‘disciplinary’ techniques of confinement and torture associated with ‘factory farms’ and towards quasi-therapeutic ways of claiming to know ‘farmed’ animals, in which the animals themselves are co-opted into the processes by which knowledge about them is generated. The new pastoral turn in ‘animal-centred’ welfare finds popular expression in ‘happy meat’ discourses that invite ‘consumers’ to adopt a position of vicarious carer for the ‘farmed’ animals who they eat. The paper concludes that while ‘animal-centred’ welfare reform and ‘happy meat’ discourses promise a possibility of a somewhat less degraded life for some ‘farmed’ animals, they do so by perpetuating exploitation and oppression and entrenching speciesist privilege by making it less vulnerable to critical scrutiny. View Full-Text
Keywords: ‘animal-centred’ welfare; disciplinary power; Foucault; ‘happy meat’; pastoral power; Welfare Quality® ‘animal-centred’ welfare; disciplinary power; Foucault; ‘happy meat’; pastoral power; Welfare Quality®
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Cole, M. From “Animal Machines” to “Happy Meat”? Foucault’s Ideas of Disciplinary and Pastoral Power Applied to ‘Animal-Centred’ Welfare Discourse. Animals 2011, 1, 83-101.

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