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Aesthetics, genetics, and evaluating animal bodies: locating and displacing cattle on show and in figures

Holloway, Lewis


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Professor Lewis Holloway
Professor of Human Geography. Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise, Faculty of Science and Engineering


In this paper I examine intertwined modes of bodily evaluation and genetic understanding evident in relation to 'modernising' tendencies in contemporary agriculture, using a case study of pedigree cattle breeding. These modes afford different perspectives on the same bodies. Visual evaluation is associated with aesthetic appreciation of physically present animal bodies, and takes on a particular intensity in the ritual of judging during agricultural shows. Statistical techniques of genetic evaluation are concerned to construct numerical estimates of the genetic 'worth' or 'potential' of an animal, which can stand for the animal and be transported over space and time. In both instances, animals become understood through a series of relationships between material bodies, semiotic practices, social institutions, and spatialities, and both constitute different sorts of assessment of something of the interiority of animal bodies from the outside. Both draw on different practical understandings of bodies and of bodily quality, which are directly related to breeding practices and the production and constitution of new animal bodies. I explore the production of different knowledge practices associated with these modes of evaluation, and examine the interplay and tensions between them. Simultaneously taking into account aesthetic and technical knowledge practices is suggested to be valuable in considerations of the constitution of bodies embedded in specific nature-society relations. Finally, it is suggested that there is evidence for an intensification of genetic discourse in livestock breeding, implying continuing processes of change in the knowledge practices of breeding and in the locus of decisionmaking and relations of power in agriculture.


Holloway, L. (2005). Aesthetics, genetics, and evaluating animal bodies: locating and displacing cattle on show and in figures. Environment and planning. D, Society & space, 23(6), 883-902.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 31, 2005
Online Publication Date Nov 30, 2016
Publication Date Dec 1, 2005
Print ISSN 0263-7758
Electronic ISSN 1472-3433
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 6
Pages 883-902
Keywords Geography, Planning and Development; Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
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