Displaying Animal Death: The Politics of Transparency and the Production of National Identity in Industrial Pig Agriculture and Zookeeping in Denmark

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology


The visibility of animal slaughter in Denmark stands in opposition to the concealment of slaughter typical of industrialised societies. The emphasis on transparency is embodied through a Danish slaughterhouse which facilitates group tours, while an online tour is accessible to a global audience. This culture of visibility stands in opposition to the majority of slaughterhouses around the world; as the slaughterhouse has been historicized, politicized and, more recently, conceptualised as a modernist construct. Visibility is persistently portrayed as a threat to the meat industry. However, because Denmark boasts one of the highest meat consumption rates in the world, an ethnography exploring Danish attitudes to animals and the concept of slaughter as spectacle will problematize the connection between invisibility of slaughter and meat consumption. I will challenge whether Denmark's ethos of disclosure is potentially manipulating consumer views more effectively than traditional modes of concealment.

In terms of difficult language training, I will resume an intense Danish language course, which will allow me to conduct a pilot research study of the Danish slaughterhouse. I will conduct thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Copenhagen and Horsens. Horsens is a culturally and historically significant location as the first pig slaughterhouse was opened there in 1887. I will also work in the Copenhagen Zoo that has already expressed an interest in collaboration with this project; interviewing keepers and visitors to explore the role of public dissections in zoos while also engaging in participant observation. In light of recent developments about the practice of an anthropology beyond humanity (Ingold, 2013 & Kohn, 2013), I will focus on perceiving the animal not only as an object of analysis but also as an agent in the slaughtering process.

To enhance the impact of my research on wider audiences, I will also work towards recreating the multi-sensory experience of my fieldwork by using photography, sound recordings and meat samples sourced from the slaughterhouse by curating an exhibition in a gallery space. I anticipate the outcomes of this research to be of much use to wider audiences such as the agri-food industry, non-governmental organisations (EurSafe and The Centre for Food Integrity), animal welfare organisations (Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in World Farming) and zoological associations (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) as well as an increasingly engaged public.

Furthermore, benefiting from my supervisor, Dr. Julien Dugnoille's expertise in the epidemiology of zoonotic diseases and considering the WHO report categorising processed meat as carcinogenic, my research will also explore the control of porcine MRSA and the initiative to increase the slaughter of antibiotic-free pigs. I will investigate how disease risk and containment implicates people both inside and outside the walls of the slaughterhouse. As such, this research will enrich the literature on slaughter, human-animal relationships and the sociology of zoonotic disease. The work will contribute to literature on the sociology of food, exemplifying the association between visibility and food integrity and will strengthen anthrozoological research into non-human animal self-hood.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1786844 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2016 18/10/2022 Eimear Mc Loughlin