“Why drag it into the light?” History, the early twentieth-century British slaughterhouse and the ‘politics of sight’
When novelist, playwright and humanitarian John Galsworthy wrote, in a series of letters to the Daily Mail in 1912, “The thing is horrible, but it is necessary. Why drag it out into the light?”, he was referring to the existing methods of slaughtering animals in Britain as unnecessary and avoidable. Using the 1904 Report of the Committee appointed by the Admiralty to consider the Humane Slaughter of Animals as a focal point, alongside the debates between humanitarians and representatives of the meat trade, this paper will chart a period that witnessed the institutionalisation of humane slaughter, and a growing interest of medical expertise and governmental interest in the treatment of animals during slaughter. These shifts culminated in the 1933 Slaughter of Animals Act, the first non-permissive law to consider what goes on inside slaughterhouses, the first that was not folded into wider public health issues, and one that marked a biomedical interest in the animals’ bodies.
After mapping these points and relating them to what ‘dragging’ slaughter into the light would mean in Britain at this time, I will assess the manner of its relationship to, and its implications for, subsequent notions of a ‘politics of sight’, and elaborate upon the ambiguities embedded in an ideal transparency that now comes in accompaniment. I will look at the extent to which it is the case that how animal slaughter is ‘seen’ today is the same as in our histories, and ask whether these histories may be enriched by attending to other sensory practices, beyond looking, by relating touch to slaughterhouse design, history, and the practices therein.