The object of regulation: tending the tensions of food safety

Bingham, Nick and Lavau, Stephanie (2012). The object of regulation: tending the tensions of food safety. Environment and Planning A, 44(7) pp. 1589–1606.



“I’m struggling to see what it actually is,” says Alison, peering into a colander of defrosting meat. What “it” is, we propose in this paper, is helpfully thought of as “the object of regulation” in at least three senses, which together signal both our inheritance of a Foucauldian problematic and our departure from it. Our suggestion is that much of even the best work on biopolitics, biopower, and biosecurity that has been inspired and informed by these writings has replicated Foucault’s own struggle to get to grips with the complexity of matters that he variously refers to “natural” or “artificial” “givens”. By following science and technology studies (STS) scholars in using broadly ethnographic techniques to explore objects as and at the intersection of practices, we redress this balance somewhat by thinking through an empirical study of the securing of food safety, specifically Alison’s inspection of a restaurant kitchen. What we find is that the securing of meat as a material object of regulation is primarily done by involving multiple versions of the future, something which requires a great deal of usually under-recognised, under-valued, and under-theorised articulation work. With risk based regulation, cost sharing, and public sector cuts in the UK set to redefine the ways in which Alison and her colleagues engage with food business operators, we conclude by arguing for a greater appreciation of the skilful work of tending the tensions of food safety, as well as recognition of its limitations

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