Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Second Advisor

Patti Adler

Third Advisor

Amy Wilkins


This dissertation is about the human-animal relationship in beef production. In particular, I examine the social-psychological context of working with an animal intended to become a commodity. I show that beef producers care greatly for the animals they raise, but this relationship has limits. To learn these limits, young people must acquire the emotional skills needed to understand certain kinds of animals as "market animals." These emotional skills help young people to understand animals as killable and useable as commodities. The task is to be able to have caring relationships with market animals, while remaining capable of treating them as commodities. Adult ranchers use these same skills to create and maintain an emotional boundary between consumers and the animals they eat. This is what I call boundary labor. Ranchers take on the emotional burden of caring for an animal who is useful to others only because its body is killable. Using these bodies as commodities necessitates the continual breeding of more bodies. This process collapses biological reproduction with capitalist production. I use the term "(re)production" to signify the inseparability of these two factors. Through the social-psychological processes outlined, producers learn to understand their relationship with cattle as symbiotic. I call this process the symbiotic ideology.