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  • Whitehead’s Philosophy of Unities Explored in a Case of Social Democratic Cattle Breeding
  • Lars Christian Risan (bio)

“Cyborgs are wary of holism, but needy for connection.”

—Donna Haraway1

Donna Haraway struck a contemporary chord with this quote. During the last decades, most of the social sciences in general, and science and technology studies (STS) in particular, have been “wary of holism.” This essay is written in the conviction that too much of the holist traditions, together with their organic metaphors, have been discarded. We still need an organic metaphor. This will be explored in a case of a breeding organization and a population of cattle, both named Norwegian Red Cattle (NRC). Together, NRC: the human organization and NRC: the bovine population comprise an “organism” of some sort. The organic metaphor will not be mobilized in opposition to an STS tradition that is wary of wholes, but in continuation with such a tradition. Thus, in line with contemporary STS, NRC (the organization and population) is a “hybrid collective”2 and a “body multiple.”3 But it is also an organism and a whole. The organic philosophy [End Page 127] in question will be taken mainly from Alfred North White-head’s Science and the Modern World.4

Norwegian Red Cattle

Norway is unique among the industrialized milk-drinking and -producing nations in that one breeding organization has a monopoly on all milk cattle breeding. All milk cows in Norway belong to the breed of this organization. The breed and the organization have until recently had the same name, Norwegian Red Cattle (NRC). The organization has recently changed its name to GENO, reserving NRC to the breed, but I will stick to NRC for both of them, both because it is historically correct, and because it is a naming practice that highlights their ontological unity.5 Initially, I want to draw attention to the following facts concerning NRC: in 2006, there were about 800,000 animals known as Norwegian Red Cattle in Norway, bred as dual-purpose cattle to produce both milk and meat. These animals live on 13,000 family farms that are geographically distributed along the very long coastline of Norway.6 NRC is one of the few cattle breeds of the world that is not purebred consistent with some exterior aesthetic principle, but is strictly bred according to functional properties. Even the most “industrialized” milk-producing cattle, Holstein, is purebred: it should be black and white and not, say, red and white (a red and white animal may be an Airshire, but not a Holstein or Frieser). An Aberdeen Angus should be all black—to the degree that the breeders may colorize bulls with black shoe polish at shows and sales.7 Commenting on this commitment to functionalism rather than to pure breeding, the cattle database of Oklahoma State University states: “Using the classical definition, the Norwegian Red cannot be considered a breed. It is an amalgamation to develop a superior strain of dual-purpose cattle.”8 [End Page 128] An NRC cow may look like a Frieser or an Airshire, and the breed is based on the historical import of animals from both these breeds. The NRC share the functional commitment with a few dog breeds, notably those that Haraway describes in The Companion Species Manifesto.9 (The vast majority of dogs that are bred—that is, that are not bastards—are bred to be “pure” with respect to certain aesthetic traits such as the shape of the nose of a pure Golden Retriever.)

By the year 2000, the breeding of NRC was fully computerized; that is, the central breeding authorities of NRC now have the technological capability to control characteristics by typing into the central computer, say, “increase property A” (distance from teat to floor, say) and thus determine human, animal, and mechanic actions such that somewhere between two and ten generations later—the number of generations needed will depend heavily on the breedability of the property in question—an average increase in this characteristic can be measured in the population. The NRC now breeds nine of the forty-one functional properties that it measures. The formal decisions of which functions to breed, and the...


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