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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Adger, W.N., T.A. Benjaminsen, K. Brown, and H. Svarstad. 2001. Advancing a political ecology of global environmental discourses. Development & Change 32(4): 681–715.
Armaza-Armaza, E.J., and J. Armaza-Galdos. 2010. Legal and ethical challenges regarding edible in vitro meat production. In Global food security: Ethical and legal challenges, ed. C.M. Romeo-Casabona, L. San Epifanio, and A. Cirión, 513–520. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
Bakker, S., H. Van Lente, and M. Meeus. 2011. Arenas of expectations for hydrogen technologies. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78(1): 152–162.
Barham, E. 2002. Towards a theory of values-based labeling. Agriculture and Human Values 19(4): 349–360.
Bartholet, J. 2011. Inside the meat lab. Scientific American 304(6): 64–69.
Beardsworth, A., and T. Keil. 1997. Sociology on the menu: An invitation to the study of food and society. London: Routledge.
Belasco, W. 2006. Meals to come: A history of the future of food. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Benjaminson, M.A., J.A. Gilchriest, and M. Lorenz. 2002. In vitro edible muscle protein production system (mpps): Stage 1, fish. Acta Astronautica 51(12): 879–889.
Best, J. 2011. In-vitro meat still not on the table. Slashfood.com. http://www.slashfood.com/2011/02/01/in-vitro-meat-still-not-on-the-table/. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Bhat, Z.F., and H. Bhat. 2011. Animal-free meat biofabrication. American Journal of Food Technology 6(6): 441–459.
Borup, M., N. Brown, K. Konrad, and H. Van Lente. 2006. The sociology of expectations in science and technology. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 18(3): 285–298.
Boyle, A. 2012. Lab-grown hamburger due to be served up this year … for $330,000. Msnbc.com. http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/19/10449704-lab-grown-hamburger-due-to-be-served-up-this-year-for-330000?lite. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Brasier, K.J. 2002. Ideology and discourse: Characterizations of the 1996 farm bill by agricultural interest groups. Agriculture and Human Values 19(3): 239–253.
Brown, N., and M. Michael. 2003. A sociology of expectations: Retrospecting prospects and prospecting retrospects. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 15(1): 3.
Brown, N., B. Rappert, and A. Webster. 2000. Introducting contested futures: From looking into the future to looking at the future. In Contested futures: A sociology of prospective techno-science, ed. N. Brown, B. Rappert, and A. Webster, 3–20. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Brown, N. 2003. Hope against hype—Accountability in biopasts, presents and futures. Science Studies 16(2): 3–21.
Busch, L. 2008. Nanotechnologies, food, and agriculture: Next big thing or flash in the pan? Agriculture and Human Values 25(2): 215.
Busch, L. 2005. Commentary on “Ever since Hightower: The politics of agricultural research activism in the molecular age”. Agriculture and Human Values 22(3): 285–288.
Buttel, F.H. 2005. Ever since hightower: The politics of agricultural research activism in the molecular age. Agriculture and Human Values 22(3): 275–283.
Buttel, F.H. 2000. The recombinant BGH controversy in the United States: Toward a new consumption politics of food? Agriculture and Human Values 17(1): 5–20.
Buttel, F.H., O.F. Larson, and G.W. Gillespie. 1990. The sociology of agriculture. New York: Greenwood Press.
Catts, O., and I. Zurr. 2006. Towards a new class of being—the extended body. Artnodes 6(2): 1–9.
Catts, O., and I. Zurr. 2002. Growing semi-living sculptures: The tissue culture & art project. Leonardo 35(4): 365–370.
Charmaz, K. 2000. Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructivist methods. In Handbook of qualitative research, ed. N.K. Denzin, and Y.S. Lincoln, 509–536. London: SAGE Publications.
Collins, N. 2011. First artificial burger to cost £250,000: Telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8733576/First-artificial-burger-to-cost-250000.html. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Cuhls, K. 2008. Science, technology, and innovation drivers: Short report to the SCAR Expert Working Group. European Commission Standing Committee on Agricultural Research. http://ec.europa.eu/research/agriculture/scar/index_en.cfm?p=3_foresight. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Datar, I., and M. Betti. 2010. Possibilities for an in vitro meat production system. Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 11(1): 13–22.
Delind, L., and P. Howard. 2008. Safe at any scale? Food scares, food regulation, and scaled alternatives. Agriculture and Human Values 25(3): 301–317.
DiGregorio, S. 2008. Test tube meat? The Village Voice. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2008/04/test_tube_meat_1.php. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Driessen, C., and M. Korthals. 2012. Pig towers and in-vitro meat: Disclosing moral worlds by design. Social Studies of Science 0: 1–24.
Dryzek, J. 1997. The politics of the earth: Environmental discourses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
DuPuis, E.M. 2000. Not in my body: BGH and the rise of organic milk. Agriculture and Human Values 17(3): 285–295.
Edelman, P.D., D.C. McFarland, V.A. Mironov, and J.G. Matheny. 2005. Commentary: In vitro-cultured meat production. Tissue Engineering 11(5–6): 659–662.
Ford, M. 2009. In-vitro meat: Would lab-burgers be better for us and the planet? http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/08/07/eco.invitro.meat/index.html. Accessed 17 Oct 2009.
Fuchs, D., A. Kalfagianni, and T. Havinga. 2011. Actors in private food governance: The legitimacy of retail standards and multistakeholder initiatives with civil society participation. Agriculture and Human Values 28(3): 353–367.
Geels, F.W., and W.A. Smit. 2000. Talking about the future: Metaphors of the internet. In Contested futures: A sociology of prospective techno-science, ed. N. Brown, B. Rappert, and A. Webster, 109–128. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Glaser, B.G., and A.L. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Pub. Co.
Goodman, D. 2002. Rethinking food production-consumption: Integrative perspectives. Sociologia Ruralis 42(4): 271.
Haagsman, H.P., K.J. Hellingwerf, and B.A.J. Roelen. 2009. Production of animal proteins by cell systems: Desk study on cultured meat. Utrecht University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht. http://www.new-harvest.org/img/files/production_of_animal_proteins_1207.pdf. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Hajer, M. 1995. The politics of environmental discourse: Ecological modernization and the policy process. New York: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, F. 2011. Artificial meat could slice emissions, say scientists. Guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/20/artificial-meat-emissions. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Heselmans, M. 2005. The Dutch cultivate minced meat in a petri dish. NRC Handelsblad. http://www.new-harvest.org/article09102005.htm. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Hjortsø, C.N., S.M. Christensen, and P. Tarp. 2005. Rapid stakeholder and conflict assessment for natural resource management using cognitive mapping: The case of Damdoi Forest Enterprise, Vietnam. Agriculture and Human Values 22(2): 149–167.
Hopkins, P., and A. Dacey. 2008. Vegetarian meat: Could technology save animals and satisfy meat eaters? Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21(6): 579–596.
Horst, M. 2007. Public expectations of gene therapy: Scientific futures and their performative effects on scientific citizenship. Science, Technology, & Human Values 32(2): 150–171.
Kelland, K. 2011. Petri dish to dinner plate, in-vitro meat coming soon. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/11/us-science-meat-f-idUSTRE7AA30020111111. Accessed 20 Sept 2012.
Ketzel, L. 2008. Lab-grown meat a reality, but who will eat it? NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90235492. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Kitzinger, J. 2008. Questioning hype, rescuing hope? The Hwang stem cell scandal and the reassertion of hopeful horizons. Science as Culture 17(4): 417–434.
Klein, H.K., and D.L. Kleinman. 2002. The social construction of technology: Structural considerations. Science, Technology, and Human Values 27(1): 28–52.
Kloppenburg, J. 2004. First the seed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Kloppenburg, J., J. Hendrickson, and G.W. Stevenson. 1996. Coming into the foodshed. Agriculture and Human Values 13(3): 33–42.
Kloppenburg, J., and M. Kenney. 1984. Biotechnology, seeds, and the restructuring of agriculture. Critical Sociology 12(3): 3–17.
Konrad, K. 2006. The social dynamics of expectations: The interaction of collective and actor-specific expectations on electronic commerce and interactive television. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 18(3): 429–444.
Langelaan, M.L.P., K.J.M. Boonen, R.B. Polak, F.P.T. Baaijens, M.J. Post, and D.W.J. van der Schaft. 2010. Meet the new meat: Tissue engineered skeletal muscle. Trends in Food Science & Technology 21(2): 59–66.
Lehrer, N. 2010. (Bio) fueling farm policy: The biofuels boom and the 2008 farm bill. Agriculture and Human Values 27(4): 427–444.
Lockie, S. 2006. Capturing the sustainability agenda: Organic foods and media discourses on food scares, environment, genetic engineering, and health. Agriculture and Human Values 23(3): 313–323.
Lockie, S. 1998. Environmental and social risks, and the construction of “best-practice” in Australian agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 15(3): 243–252.
Loftus, J. 2011. Ten years in, lab-grown meat still stuck in its infancy. Gizmodo.com. http://gizmodo.com/5747184/ten-years-in-lab+grown-meat-still-stuck-in-its-infancy. Accessed 14 June 2012.
López, J.J. 2008. Nanotechnology: Legitimacy, narrative and emergent technologies. Sociology Compass 2(4): 1266–1286.
McGrail, S. 2010. Nano dreams and nightmares: Emerging technoscience and the framing and (re)interpreting of the future, present and past. Journal of Futures Studies 14(4): 23–48.
McHugh, S. 2010. Real artificial: Tissue-cultured meat, genetically modified farm animals, and fictions. Configurations 18(1–2): 181–197.
Meghani, Z. 2008. Values, technologies, and epistemology. Agriculture and Human Values 25(1): 25–34.
Merton, R. K. 1973. The sociology of science: Theoretical and empirical investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Meyers, G. 2011. Raising meat in greener ways: Reuters.com. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/22/idUS402583502120110722. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Mironov, V., T. Trusk, V. Kasyanov, S. Little, R. Swaja, and R. Markwald. 2009. Biofabrication: A 21st century manufacturing paradigm. Biofabrication 1(2): 1–16.
Neef, A., and D. Neubert. 2011. Stakeholder participation in agricultural research projects: A conceptual framework for reflection and decision-making. Agriculture and Human Values 28(2): 179–194.
Nerlich, B., and C. Halliday. 2007. Avian flu: The creation of expectations in the interplay between science and the media. Sociology of Health & Illness 29(1): 46–65.
Oliver, P., and H. Johnston. 2000. What a good idea! Ideologies and frames in social movement research. Mobilization: An International Quarterly 5(1): 37–54.
Omholt, S. W. 2008. The first in vitro meat symposium. The in vitro meat consortium. http://invitromeat.org/content/view/14/1/. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Osborne, A. 2008. The in vitro meat consortium preliminary economics study: eXmoor Pharma Concepts. http://www.new-harvest.org/img/files/culturedmeatecon.pdf. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Pincock, S. 2007. Meat, in vitro? The Scientist 21(9): 22.
Pluhar, E. 2010. Meat and morality: Alternatives to factory farming. Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 23(5): 455–468.
Post, M.J. 2012. Cultured meat from stem cells: Challenges and prospects. Meat Science 92(3): 297–301.
Revkin, A. 2008. Can people have meat and a planet, too? The New York Times. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/can-people-have-meat-and-a-planet-too/. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Ruef, A., and J. Markard. 2010. What happens after a hype? How changing expectations affected innovation activities in the case of stationary fuel cells. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 22(3): 317–338.
Schonwald, J. 2009. Future fillet. University of Chicago Magazine 101(5): 28–31.
Selin, C. 2007. Expectations and the emergence of nanotechnology. Science, Technology, & Human Values 32(2): 196–220.
Shackley, S., and B. Wynne. 1996. Representing uncertainty in global climate change science and policy: Boundary-ordering devices and authority. Science, Technology, & Human Values 21(3): 275–302.
Simon, A., and M. Xenos. 2000. Media framing and effective public deliberation. Political Communication 17(4): 363–376.
Specter, M. 2011. Test-tube burgers. The New Yorker 87(14): 32–38.
Stephens, N. 2010. In vitro meat: Zombies on the menu? SCRIPTed 7(2): 394–401.
The Economist. 2006. A meaty question. The Economist. http://www.economist.com/node/7904194?story_id=7904194. Accessed 14 June 2012.
Tuomisto, H.L., and M.J. Teixeira de Mattos. 2011. Environmental impacts of cultured meat production. Environmental Science & Technology 45(14): 6117–6123.
Van der Weele, C. 2010. In vitro meat: Promises and responses: Cooperation between science, social research, and ethics. In Global food security: Ethical and legal challenges, ed. C.M. Romeo-Casabona, L. San Epifanio, and A. Cirión, 505–512. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
van Lente, H. 2000. Forceful futures: From promise to requirement. In Contested futures: A sociology of prospective techno-science, ed. N. Brown, B. Rappert, and A. Webster, 43–64. Burlington: Ashgate.
Welin, S., J. Gold, and J. Berlin. 2012. In vitro meat: What are the moral issues. In The philosophy of food, ed. D. Kaplan, 292–304. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Welin, S., and C. Van der Weele. 2012. Cultured meat: Will it separate us from nature? In Climate change and sustainable development: Ethical perspectives on land use and food production, ed. E. Potthast, and S. Meisch, 348–354. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.
Wilkie, A., and M. Michael. 2009. Expectation and mobilisation. Science, Technology & Human Values 34(4): 502–522.
Williams, S.J., J. Gabe, and P. Davis. 2008. The sociology of pharmaceuticals: Progress and prospects. Sociology of Health & Illness 30(6): 813–824.
Yin, J. 1999. Elite opinion and media diffusion: Exploring environmental attitudes. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 4(3): 62–86.
Zurr, I., and O. Catts. 2003. The ethical claims of bio-art: Killing the other or self-cannibalism? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 5(1): 167–188.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Chiles, R.M. If they come, we will build it: in vitro meat and the discursive struggle over future agrofood expectations. Agric Hum Values 30, 511–523 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9427-9
- In vitro meat
- Sociology of expectations