Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Farming without Farmers: Deskilling in Contract Broiler Farming
by Miller, Elizabeth Carroll, Ph.D., University of Oregon, 2018, 212; 10935955
Abstract (Summary)

Social scientists and food studies scholars have shown an enduring interest in how food is produced in our largely industrialized food system. However, there has been little research about the organization of labor on industrialized farms. These sites of production are mostly privately owned and hidden away from researchers and journalists, who are often perceived as critics or activists by farmers and other agriculturalists. My dissertation fills this gap by focusing exclusively on industrialized contract broiler farms. Contract broiler farming is a model where farmers agree to raise chickens for meat for a set amount of time, at a rate of pay based on the ratio of feed to chicken weight at slaughter. Farmers invest in the built infrastructure to execute this process, but the company they contract for is mostly in control of the upstream and downstream supply and processing chains that depend on the production of the broiler chicken for their continued functioning.

I use archival, interview, and ethnographic data to detail the history of broiler farming, the emergence of contracting, and what the experience of it is like today. The most significant and novel part of this project is my ethnographic data collected over six months spent working on two broiler farms contracted with one of the largest firms in the US. To date, no other researchers have been able to gain this level of access.

In this dissertation, I begin by exploring the role of management, detailing how the structure of the farming contract and ambiguous supervisory oversight facilitates farmer’s compliance with company demands. Then, utilizing agricultural and labor scholarship on deskilling in the labor process, I explore how poultry farming has become deskilled, robbing farmers of autonomy, the opportunity to agitate for better labor conditions, and ultimately eroding the intimate knowledge necessary to execute successful animal husbandry. Finally, I explore the games farmers play at work. While these games obscure how surplus value is appropriated from the farmer by the contracting firm, they also demonstrate farmer’s resistance and acquiescence to their deskilling and loss of autonomy.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: York, Richard F.
Commitee: Elliott, James R., Otis, Eileen, Wooten, Stephen
School: University of Oregon
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- Oregon
Source: DAI-B 80/04(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Agriculture, Sociology, Labor relations
Keywords: Agrarian studies, Agricultural deskilling, Broiler chicken, Contract farming, Industrial agriculture, Labor process
Publication Number: 10935955
ISBN: 978-0-438-69370-8
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