Artisan food processing and food safety regulation in Michigan: An actor-network study of interactions, interests, and fluid boundaries

by Buckley, Jenifer Ann, Ph.D., MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, 2013, 174 pages; 3606063


Conventional wisdom has it that food safety regulations impede the practice of artisanship and other smaller-scale food processing. Artisan food processors are seen to carry on craft production methods steeped in tradition and adapted to the idiosyncrasies of individual situations, while food safety inspectors are seen to enforce broad standards formulated in scientific and political processes that are stacked against smaller producers. Current debates on regulatory responses to this trend, however, are stymied by a scarcity of research on the practice of artisanship in contemporary regulated contexts and on the practical enforcement of food safety regulations during inspections.

This dissertation presents an exploratory ethnographic study that examined the food safety regulation of artisan processing in Michigan. (Artisan processing is defined here as processing conducted at a small or medium scale in which producers emphasize manual production techniques and are involved at each step of the process. It involves batch rather than continuous production and allows for variability in products and processes.) Careful attention to artisan-inspector interactions illuminated aspects of artisanship, regulation, and the relationship between them that are not captured in broad narratives of conflict or in a focus on written rules. Dichotomies blurred; spaces of overlap and mutuality opened up between interests, actors, and social phenomena that are otherwise considered inimical to each other. Conventional distinctions also blurred during fieldwork, as the flow of information and control of the study moved both ways between researcher and research participants.

Chapter 1 presents the methodology that was developed for the investigation and that built on science and technology studies (STS), primarily actor-network theory. Chapters 2 and 3 present two analytic perspectives on the findings, drawn from economic theories of regulation and STS, respectively. The dissertation concludes with recommendations for policy, practice, and further research.

AdviserJames Bingen
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial research; Agriculture; Public policy
Publication Number3606063

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