Producing (extra)ordinary death on the farm: Deathly knowledges and dead calves

Authors: Gretchen Sneegas*, University of Georgia
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Animal Geographies, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: death, agriculture, shale gas development, knowledge, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Galerie 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2010, a herd of 28 beef cattle on a Pennsylvania farm was exposed to a hydraulic fracturing fluid on their pasture. The following year, eight out of eleven calves born to the exposed cattle died. This paper examines the competing and contesting rationalities which sought to control how these deaths should be known and governed in the following months: the farmers drew on experiential and tacit knowledge to frame the calves’ deaths as extra-ordinary and outside normal deathly production on the farm, while state institutions of (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Protection) sought instead to frame the deaths as the result of the farmers’ negligence, and thus an “ordinary” agricultural death. In this paper, I examine the (re)production of these deathly knowledges and discourses, and investigate how the competing logics of the state and agricultural producers know and produce death as (extra)ordinary. I explore these questions by following the bodies of the calves themselves, submitted for necropsies by the state, and how they became the catalyst for negotiation between these competing deathly knowledges, as well as a site shaping their production, circulation, application, and erasure. Finally, I analyze these deaths as produced not in isolation, but as part of – and resulting from – overlapping modes of capital extraction across and through the site of the farm.

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