Enacting public understandings: the case of farm animal welfare

Adrian Evans, Mara Miele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper draws on the results of 48 focus group discussions carried out across 7 European study countries to shed light on the public understanding of farm animal welfare; however the account that we provide does not follow typical social-scientific conventions. We do not try to ‘capture’ public opinion on this issue, as a survey might seek to do by fixing, stabilising and ‘representing’ its subject matter, nor do we attempt to produce an entirely ‘coherent’ version of what the public understands by farm animal welfare. Instead, we adopt a performative approach (see Mol, 2002; Law, 2004; Callon et al., 2009). This enables us both to explore the ways in which lay knowledges are grounded in everyday socio-material practices (such as shopping for food, cooking and eating) and to critically reflect upon how our scholarly attempts to engage with these lay understandings actively intervene with them and help to generate new hybrid knowledges that are partly public and partly academic. More specifically, we identify three distinct acts of knowledge production that took place within the focus group discussions and we dedicate a considerable amount of time and attention to describing the contexts in which and through which each act of knowledge production was choreographed (Cussins, 1996; Thomson, 2005). We then outline what specific versions of farm animal welfare were being enacted within these particular discussions and through these particular contexts. Whilst this method reveals certain overlaps and consistencies between the different ‘knowledge acts’ or ‘ways of knowing’ farm animal welfare, it also reveals some startling contradictions and non-coherencies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Early online date23 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

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  • Farm animal welfare
  • Performative methods
  • Public understanding of science
  • Situated knowledges

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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