Animal Production, Ag-gag Laws, and the Social Production of Ignorance: Exploring the Role of Storytelling

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32 Scopus citations


In recent years, a number of so-called "farm protection" or "ag-gag" laws have been proposed and passed in state legislatures across the USA. These laws generally ban the undercover photographing or videotaping of industrial animal agricultural production and processing facilities. Proponents of the legislation suggest that such bills protect local farm economies and prevent misinformation campaigns by animal rights activists. Diverse sets of critics have argued against the bills, suggesting that they prevent whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty and stand in the way of the public's right to know. This paper analyzes the debate by blending theory from science and technology studies regarding the social production of knowledge and ignorance with communication theory that explores the power of storytelling in shaping public understandings of social life. It investigates the stories told by three oppositional stakeholder groups-members of industrial animal agribusiness who defend the legislation, small-scale producers and consumers who believe the legislation prevents productive transparency, as well as animal advocacy and first amendment interests who believe the legislation masks fundamental flaws in the contemporary animal agricultural system. The paper provides insight into how competing mediated narratives frame ideological battles over the present and future of animal production processes. It demonstrates how fundamental and often opposing value systems construct what we consider knowledge and non-knowledge in the context of our contemporary risk society and in the digital media age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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