Pig towers and in vitro meat: Disclosing moral worlds by design

C.P.G. Driessen, M.J.J.A.A. Korthals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Technology development is often considered to obfuscate democratic decision-making and is met with ethical suspicion. However, new technologies also can open up issues for societal debate and generate fresh moral engagements. This paper discusses two technological projects: schemes for pig farming in high-rise agro-production parks that came to be known as ‘pig towers’, and efforts to develop techniques for producing meat without animals by using stem cells, labelled ‘in vitro meat’. Even before fully entering our world as actually realized systems or commercially viable products, these technologies disclosed societal concerns over animal agriculture. These concerns were expressed through active public responses and were informed by formal methods of assessment, such as applied ethics and lifecycle analysis. By closely examining how features of these designs entered public debates and ethical thought, we trace the moral world-disclosing character of technological projects. We find that these proposals generate occasions for debate and gather new societal actors to form new coalitions or rifts. Both technologies gave rise to particular understandings of societal issues. As the central means through which problems were discussed changed, new types of arguments were considered relevant and ontological shifts could even be seen to occur with what was considered ‘real meat’ and the ‘true nature’ of animal farming. We argue that world disclosing involves a renewed sense of the character of political and moral agency, whereby the sensibilities that constitute a moral subject are redefined. Finally, we explore the inner tensions and ambiguities of this process of moral and political change by confronting the notions of ‘world disclosure’ developed by Dewey and Heidegger, thereby connecting to recent debates within both STS and political theory on how to understand political processes in a technological culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)797-820
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • cultured meat
  • technology
  • politics
  • animals
  • science

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