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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Genetics, genomics and genetic modification in agriculture: emerging knowledge-practices in making and managing farm livestock.

Grant reference: RES-062-23-0642

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Impact Report details

Genetics, genomics and genetic modification in agriculture: emerging knowledge-practices in making and managing farm livestock
To cite this output: Holloway, LE, et al (2011) Genetics, Genomics and Genetic Modification in Agriculture: Emerging Knowledge-Practices in Making and Managing Farm Livestock ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-0642. Swindon: ESRC

Primary contributor

Author Lewis Holloway

Additional contributors

Co-author Carol Morris
Co-author David Gibbs
Co-author John Dupre


The research produced the following key scientific impacts, making important theoretical and empirical contributions to debates in human geography in particular but to the social sciences more widely. Theoretically, the project enabled the development of new ways of conceptualising human-nonhuman relationships in livestock agriculture by extending Foucault’s writings on biopower from the human to the nonhuman (animal) world, focusing on how life is problematised and fostered through the deployment of genetic techniques in breeding. This approach was supplemented by developing work on biosocial collectivities as groupings centred around particular biological issues, and again extending the definition of such collectivity so that nonhuman entities could be considered alongside human members. Although empirically the research focused on livestock breeding, these conceptualisations speak more widely to other situations in which human-nonhuman relationships are being negotiated. Empirically, the research uncovered some of the complex effects of the introduction of genetic techniques in to the ‘traditions’ of livestock breeding. The research destabilised conventional, simplistic notions of technology transfer and innovation diffusion, showing how different modes of adoption, adaptation and resistance occurred in different settings, in relation to different livestock species and breeds. Empirically the research also revealed the increasing institutionalisation of livestock breeding, with decisions traditionally made by individual farmers becoming pervaded by externally-derived advice, information or instruction (e.g. from companies wanting to guide livestock breeding processes in particular directions).

The project has demonstrated how the process of ‘geneticisation’ is contested and complex. We have shown in detail how and why this complexity is produced and takes effect in specific circumstances. Rather than using existing terminologies of ‘adopters’ and ‘non-adopters’, and instead of focusing on individual decision makers, we have developed ideas of technology use/non-use within the context of heterogeneous biosocial collectivities. The research has demonstrated how human-animal relations in livestock breeding can be transformed by the use of genetic knowledge-practices. These produce new ways of knowing and valuing animal bodies, and new modes of selecting ‘good’ and discarding ‘poor’ animals. These technologies are associated with a restructuring of relationships between actors in the food supply system: new power relations are emerging between breeders and external actors (and decision making is being externalised away from farms). The research began to identify a shift in the ability to control breeding, with influence increasingly invested in supermarkets and large processors The project produced the following outputs so far: Holloway L et al (2009) Biopower, genetics and livestock breeding: (re) constituting animal populations and heterogeneous biosocial collectivities. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 34: 394-407. Morris C and Holloway L (2009) Genetic technologies and the transformation of the geographies of UK livestock agriculture: a research agenda. Progress in Human Geography 33, 313-333. Gibbs D et al (2009) Genetic techniques for livestock breeding: Restructuring institutional relationships in agriculture Geoforum 40, 1041-1049. Holloway L and Morris C (2008) Boosted bodies: genetic techniques, domestic livestock bodies and complex representations of life. Geoforum 39, 1709-1720

The outputs recorded above are the project’s key method of achieving scientific impact. In addition the following outputs have recently been accepted for publication. They are as yet unpublished and hence are not recorded on the project’s Society Today website Holloway L et al (2011 forthcoming) Genetic knowledge-practices in livestock breeding: geneticisation, integration, and the implications for conventional and alternative meat networks. In: Goodman M and Sage C (eds) Food Transgressions. London, Ashgate. Holloway L and Morris C (2011 forthcoming) Contesting genetic knowledge-practices in livestock breeding: biopower, biosocial collectivities and heterogeneous resistances. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Holloway L et al (2011 forthcoming) Choosing and rejecting cattle and sheep: changing discourses and practices of (de)selection in pedigree livestock breeding. Agriculture and Human Values The project has also produced a series of academic conference presentations and seminar presentations, including several given since submission of the end of project report. Invited seminar papers since the submission of the end of project report have included Department of Geography, Kings College London and the Institute of Science in Society, University of Nottingham. The most recent conference papers include: Morris C and Holloway L (2011) Genetics and livestock breeding in the UK: co-constructing technologies and heterogeneous biosocial collectivities. RGS-IBG Annual Conference, August/September 2011, London Holloway L, et al (2010) Genetic techniques in livestock breeding: biopower, biosocial collectivities and heterogeneous resistances. Sentient Creatures: transforming biopolitics and life matters, University of Oslo, 15-17th September 2010

The research has had an impact on, broadly, social scientists studying human-nonhuman relations, including but not limited to agriculture, and on those studying the implications for knowledges and practices of particular technological interventions in agriculture and food systems. The published outputs listed above are increasingly cited in the works of others, and have also influenced the establishment of other funded research projects. For example, the ESRC-funded project ‘Mitigating the environmental impact of cattle and sheep: farmers’ readiness for uptake’ (PI Ann Bruce, University of Edinburgh) has been influenced by this research and has co-opted one investigator, Dr. Morris, as an advisor to the project on the basis of her involvement in this research. More widely, the research has played a part in the ESRC Genomics Network. As well as the project mentioned above (Ann Bruce is attached to Innogen) the investigators have presented papers at the Network Conference (Edinburgh, 2006) and at two invited Egenis seminars. These papers extended the scope of the Network programme by focusing on nonhumans, contrasting with the tendency to pay attention mainly to human genomics and genetics. The research has prompted invitations to contribute chapters to forthcoming books which have extended the reach of the research into new and unanticipated areas: for example chapters will appear in books on such diverse topics as food transgressions and geographies of aesthetics.

The major part of the impact of the research is its scientific impact as outlined above. The project engaged consistently with relevant stakeholders as outlined below but clear and demonstrable economic and social impact is difficult to identify.

Research findings concerning the complexity of ‘geneticisation’ were communicated to audiences tending to assume that adoption of genetic techniques is straightforward and inevitable

Communication of research findings occurred through consistent engagement with actors in the livestock breeding sector and engagement with scientific researchers in livestock breeding (their interest in a social scientific perspective was fundamental to the project’s establishment). The Consultation Panel was crucial in disseminating and discussing research findings to industry and scientific audiences. A forum was provided for challenging accepted perspectives and for these audiences to rethink how they do their work and communicate with each other about livestock and genetics. A paper given to the Sheep Breeders Forum (November 2009) provided a counterpoint to prevailing scientific and industry perspectives. The project convened a seminar for food sector and scientific representatives at the Royal Agricultural Society of England (July 2010). Key findings were disseminated and a forum provided for discussing genetic technology and the livestock sector’s future. This was reported in the farming press, providing wider impact for the project.

As stated, demonstrating specific impact is difficult in this case. Project dissemination activities included communication of key findings as described above, to audiences including representatives of agricultural and food sector institutions; livestock breeding scientists, and sheep and cattle breed societies. For wider audiences, the project was represented in an article for the Food Ethics Council on genetics in the livestock sector (Twine R and Holloway L (2008) Animal Engineering, Food Ethics, 3, 3, pp.30-31).

The end of project seminar (held at the Royal Agricultural Society of England, July 2010) was successful as a forum for dissemination of research findings and in bringing together representatives of stakeholder institutions for discussion of the issues the research examined. Encouraged by some of the seminar participants, the investigators are considering making an application for follow-on funding to support a programme of further such dissemination and discussion events working at different levels within the livestock breeding sector (focusing on breed societies in particular). An opportunity would in this way be provided for further impacts to follow from the research by influencing the practices of these groups.

The initial research proposal did not specify that an engagement with Foucault and concepts of biopower would form part of the research. The investigators’ own encounters with and development of these concepts arose during the project and was unexpected, but in terms of scientific impact has been one of the major contributions the research has made. In addition, as mentioned earlier in this report, the investigators have been requested to contribute chapters to edited collections on themes which go beyond the original and intended scope of the project. This suggests that other researchers have been influenced by this research and that it has affected their own research agendas to the extent that they would want the research to be represented in planned publications.

Entrenched positions on technology transfer and innovation adoption in the industry may have limited our ability to have an impact. Our efforts to communicate with industry representatives and agricultural scientists were limited by our very different perspectives and objectives. As such, as suggested above, although we consistently communicated our research to these audiences identifying specific ‘impact’ is difficult.

Cite this outcome


Holloway, Lewis et al. Genetics, genomics and genetic modification in agriculture: emerging knowledge-practices in making and managing farm livestock.: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-0642. Swindon: ESRC


Holloway Lewis et al. Genetics, genomics and genetic modification in agriculture: emerging knowledge-practices in making and managing farm livestock.: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-0642. Swindon: ESRC.