If they come, we will build it: in vitro meat and the discursive struggle over future agrofood expectations
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According to recent literature in the sociology of expectations, expectations about the future are “performative” in that they provide guidance for activities, attract attention, mobilize political and economic resources, coordinate between groups, link technical and social concerns, create visions, and enroll supporters. While this framework has blossomed over the past decade in science and technology studies, it has yet to be applied towards a more refined understanding of how the future of the modern agrofood system is being actively contested and understood. I seek to redress this gap by using the sociology of expectations to explain the discursive topography surrounding in vitro meat, a nascent agrofood technology whereby processed meat products are developed from stem cells as opposed to live animals. In discussing the obstacles and challenges which confront the proponents of this technology, I utilize three key concepts from the sociology of expectations: (1) hype, (2) retrospective prospects, and (3) the role of myth, metaphor, and ideology. I find that despite sluggish results and financial setbacks, the controversial legacy of previous agrofood technologies, and persistent cultural skepticism, the core ideological justifications for in vitro meat have proven to be resilient in buoying the technology through rough discursive waters.
KeywordsIn vitro meat Agrofood Sociology of expectations Technology Discourse Stakeholders
This article would not have been made possible without the generous feedback and comments from Jack Kloppenburg and Daniel Kleinman. The author would also like to thank Harvey James, the three anonymous reviewers, Mike Bell, Susan Squier, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Susan Lederer, The University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, and all of those who participated in the study. Any errors or omissions are the author’s alone.
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