Beyond Biopolitics: Animal Studies, Factory Farms, and the Advent of Deading Life

James Stanescu


This article seeks to do two things: articulate the function of biopolitics as a necessary correlate to human exceptionalism, and argue for the factory farm as a supplementary inverse of biopolitical logic. Human exceptionalism is based fundamentally in a desire to create protected lives, and lives that can be, or even need to be, exterminated. In other words, human exceptionalism is the very definition of biopolitics. However, biopolitical theory was mostly developed around thinking through issues of human genocides, particularly the Nazi Lager. Despite attempts to think the analogies between Auschwitz and a factory farm, such analogies ignore important historical and theoretical specificities. While the biopolitical is an important, even necessary, theoretical understanding of humans’ relations to other animals, it is not sufficient for thinking the realities of factory farming. We need a conceptual apparatus not rooted in the ability to think the horrors of human genocide, but one rooted in the ability to think the horrors of the factory farm. Thus I propose the animals in the factory farm exist in the political ontology of deading life; that is beings who should be alive, but are somehow already dead. This conceptual apparatus is not meant to oppose the thought of the biopolitical, it is meant to supplement the biopolitical—to allow us to think with and beyond the biopolitical.

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