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Making Life Work: Racial Capitalism, Black Families, and the Poultry Capital of the World.

In this work I ask: How do Black workers, their multigenerational “poultry families,” and broader communities experience poultry processing work in North Georgia? This subjective starting place grounds longer histories and ongoing struggles over the industry’s future to analyze how racial capitalism, or the production of racial difference for profit accumulation, structures the global production and consumption of cheap chicken.

This work has two parts, book manuscript and collaborative documentary short film. 


In Making Life Work, I make two major contributions. First, I challenge how scholars, journalists, and labor advocates narrate this work, not as an extraordinary case of labor exploitation isolated to the plant floor but rather as one site among many in which Black women make life work. Poultry processing work can only be understood in relation to other places of social reproduction, what feminist scholars theorize as the often hidden, gendered, historically unpaid labor that upholds paid labor for capitalism. These places help structure the book’s chapter sequence and include the home, jail and prison, unemployment office, school, and occasionally other sites of low wage work. Second, I locate in Black women’s everyday practices to make life work a politics of refusal that challenges the overall conditions and valorization of work itself. This includes practices like sharing tacit knowledge on the line to protect one’s body and strategies off the line for successful disability claims and brief interludes of rest while working even lower paying jobs. Historically, I map practices of refusal across the archive, from USDA home demonstration agents’ interactions with Black rural women unwilling to accept instruction on early poultry science to spontaneous walk outs. 

​Making Life Work expands my publishing record analyzing 1) the relationship between welfare and expanded policing to low-wage poultry work, 2) how agricultural technologies depend on carceral dynamics (capture, control, and confinement), and 3) Black-women-led social movements for food, environmental justice, and self-determination.

All images by Kwamé Kang, director of photography

Documentary Team

Our team develops out of years of ongoing conversation and consultation.

Collaborative Documentary Short Film

Making Life Work” is a documentary-short depicting the lives and labors of Black women and their broader families in the poultry industries of the US South. This film is collaboratively produced with local activists, artists, and poultry plant workers and their families. 

This film aims to bring awareness to the living and working conditions for people working inside of these plants. The poultry was once one of the only options for Southern Black women to make ends meet. Although job discrimination and availability has changed, many Black women continue to work inside poultry plants. This film centers these women whose bodies make tens of thousands of repetitive motions each day to fuel our love of chicken. To some people this is a way of life as they come from “poultry families.” To others it is a part of a cycle of low-wage and dead-end jobs in a state with poor labor protections, low unionization, and an abysmal minimum wage. Nevertheless they make life work.

We hope the viewer gains a better understanding of the working and living conditions for people in the poultry industry. We also hope viewers can trace connections of the poultry industry to plantation agriculture important for Southern economies. In addition to what
you might expect, our goal is for viewers to get a glimpse of the fullness of black women’s lives, beyond their positions as line workers, to see the kinds of black livingness that continue despite what the poultry plant takes from peoples’ bodies and souls.

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