Conference on The Chicken

Posted by on May 10, 2002

The Yale University Program in Agrarian Studies announces the upcoming date of an international conference on The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Industrial, and Cultural History, From Neolithic Middens to McNuggets. The conference will be held on the Yale campus from May 17-19 at Sage Hall, 205 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut. The conference is free and open to the public.

The goal of the conference is to provide a deep and innovative natural and cultural history of the chicken (Gallus gallus). From their origins as jungle fowl in Southeast Asia 7,000 years ago, to a living presence in barnyards around the world, chickens have become the front line of an increasingly industrialized agriculture. Arguably the most engineered of all domestic animals, the chickens breast, legs, eggs, wings, feathers, and fighting abilities have been the subject of centuries of breeding and research. In the past, the chicken has been the focus of efforts to diversify household production, agricultural economies, and urban diets. Today, Chicken McNuggets are a living symbol of verticalized industries, mass production and global markets.

The director of the Program in Agrarian Studies, James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, said: Transforming the chicken to serve our various needs, we have, in turn, been transformed. How better to understand mankind’s manipulation of the natural world than through the fabled and troubled history of one of its most important domesticates: the chicken? In its scope and depth, this conference may well be a first of its kind.

The three-day conference will bring together over 75 scholars, agronomists, public intellectuals, chicken growers, workers, industry representatives, and activists from the labor, farm, animal welfare, environmental, and public health movements. Beginning on the afternoon of Friday, May 17, the conference will host over 15 panels and plenary sessions addressing such themes as chicken folklore and symbolism, the social, economic and political impact of industrial breeding and poultry processing, and the history of chicken consumption world-wide. The presenters will include, among others:

o Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire.
o The Reverend Jim Lewis of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance, a group working for better conditions for poultry workers, farmers and communities.
o Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
o Noel Honeyborne, founder of Fowls for Africa, a South African development organization to preserve heritage breeds of African chickens for small-scale producers.
o Stephen Green-Armytage, author and photographer of Extraordinary Chickens.
o Stephanie Black, filmmaker of Life and Debt, an examination of globalizations effect on agriculture, including poultry processing, in Jamaica.

In honor of the fowl whose history is being considering, a series of events have also been planned around the conference. From May 1 May 20, Sterling Memorial Library on the campus of Yale University will feature a display of chicken-related books, pamphlets, and art. During the course of the conference, there will be a small film and photo festival and literary readings.

For more information on the conference, please see the conference website:

The conference is organized by the Yale Program in Agrarian Studies with funds provided by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization; the Yale Center for International and Area Studies; and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. The conference is open to the public, but attendees are requested to contact the Program in Agrarian Studies in advance for free registration.

Gavin Whitelaw, conference co-coordinator

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