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Accounting for Modernity: Calculative Infrastructures of Sardinian Dairy Production

  • Author(s): Kohler, Gregory
  • Advisor(s): Murphy, Keith
  • et al.
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Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

In my research I focus on the ways farmers, food processors, consumers, and regulators link ethical values surrounding food production to their local environments in an agricultural community in Arborea, Italy, which was founded as one of the fascist regime’s crowning development projects during the early 1920s. Through an ethnographic study of Arborea, I investigate how Italy’s legacies of fascist planning and the social organization of agricultural cooperatives coexist with the EU’s market-oriented governance programs, and how those legacies shape contemporary food production practices and the regulation of agricultural environments. Through a deeper engagement with Arborea’s own fascist history, I show how Italy’s colonial past is not a short-lived debacle, but rather motivates Italy’s current political and economic discourse. Parody becomes a key resource for understanding the community’s stance in relation to the competitive dynamics of a global dairy market. In the world of milk contracts, the heterogeneity of Sardinia’s linguistic and economic landscape can enter neatly into the language of contract and thereby enter global circuits of capital. If parody is about the practices of multinational capitalism as opposed to Sardinian cooperative economies, and contract reveals anxieties over standardization for that capitalist political economy, accounting demonstrates conflicts over how Sardinians approach the EU. The notion of the body organizes discourse around risk, contamination, and toxicity—not only through the relationship between individuals and milk, but also between communities and even the nation-state. In this way, we see again legacies of colonialism not only structuring global agricultural flows, but also the ways that people conceptualize what is “good” food—particularly for the dairy industry whose global reach today is direct result of diets shifting to European norms.

This dissertation, which is rooted directly in a critical dialogue between political ecology, linguistic anthropology, and European studies, explores the relationship between language, audit cultures, and food systems, with a particular emphasis on how these domains intersect with human experience. More specifically, it examines the development of calculative governance mechanisms and their implementation in interactions between auditors, inspectors, and farmers. This work is also methodologically innovative, drawing on methods from sensory anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and organizational studies, in addition to cultural anthropology. Key interest areas that this project engages with include global studies, governance, organizational studies, ethnographic methods, food systems, and interaction.

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This item is under embargo until December 1, 2026.