Exploring the borders and mobilities in conventional and halal sheep slaughter in England

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


As Brexit approaches, Britain is unprepared to feed its people. Modes of food productivity, regulations and the social and economic impacts of these are unknown. The highest revenue food industry is meat; abattoirs are an essential, albeit unseen moment in this commodity chain. In the UK, abattoir workers are predominantly white, male and working class. This demographic, shorthanded as disenfranchised Brexit voters who turned on a technocratic, urban elite, stand at the frontline of changes to regulations and market. Paradoxically, heritage meat production, valued through locality and transparency is gaining cultural capital, nostalgically harking back to a pre-industrial, pre-abattoir past.

In the project of modernity to conceal the brutality and residue of meat's animal origins, slaughter has been rendered into a cultural blind spot (Young-Lee:2008). Forces of industrialisation have further centralised production to out-of-town regionalised abattoirs. EU regulations, produced in response to trade, disease and consumer outrage, regulate all abattoirs unilaterally, regardless of whether the meat produced is "industrialised" or "heritage." Abattoirs remain culturally ignored; represented by state and supranational organisations through science or animal welfare informed regulations and omitted from UN reports on global meat supply , whilst heritage meat narratives jump from farm to butchers block.

My masters fieldwork was located in British abattoirs. Workers were patriotic and explicitly hostile about immigrants, despite negligible presence of immigrant workers. Conversely, they were proud of international trade and ambivalent about the values of nationally enforced EU regulations, reflexively differentiating economy, state and nationhood. They challenged public discourses scripting the white working class as homogeneously disenfranchised.

At this urgent moment where heritage, class and gender inform broad articulations of nationhood, this research asks, what does the concealed abattoir reveal about working class masculinities in post-industrial Britain? As practices of heritage meat production are promoted as corrective to globalised food chains, incongruent notions of sovereignty resonate with Britain feeding its own people. How will future heritage economies interplay with industrialised economies and shape divisions in gender and class of those working within them? How could policy exacerbate or temper these divisions? This research aims to articulate the social effects of policy, regulation and heritage economies as potentially amplifying social divisions, complicating notions of nationhood.

Multi-sited fieldwork will take place at industrialised and heritage abattoirs in Cumbria, Norfolk, London and Scotland to encompass a cross-national and complex regional lens into British productivity. Research methods will combine participant-observation, informal and semi-structured interviews with workers. This will be combined with a detailed discourse analysis of policy and regulation.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1928014 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2022 Jessica Fagin