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Alex Blanchette’s Porkopolis vs Ralph Laurence’s Torture Letters

Summary of Torture Letters by Ralph Laurence

Laurence Ralph, a Princeton University Professor of Anthropology, wrote this letter-based novel. This book is a collection of open letters to individuals with future or historical roles in respect to police cruelty and the elimination of torture through symbolic and visual examples, organized into chapters. To be specific, Ralph used this one-of-a-kind style to highlight the acts and events that led to the legacy of torture and police brutality perpetrated on African Americans by former Chicago Police Chief John Burge between 1972 and 1991.

The book’s objectives include chronicles of the Chicago Police Department’s torture and brutality, the one hundred and twenty-five torture claims by African American suspects’, the American people’s willingness to help perpetuate a physical and emotional war on African Americans, and the rise of Anti-Police Violence movements in the US. In each chapter, he lists the winners, including two kids with matching backpacks at the Cermak Road and the corner of Lawndale Avenue, Josephine Grayson, Superintendent Eddie Johnson, prospective Chicago Mayors, the late Andrew Wilson, and many more. At the end of the book, the author even writes a message to the reader. In each letter to each individual, the author discusses the various forms and manifestations of police brutality, as well as how we may cope with and possibly overcome these issues.

Laurence Ralph characterizes police violence as the practice action of some members of the police organization who maltreated their detainee for some other reasons. Police Violence an illegal act of the police where they inflicted severe harm or danger to some people in the community. Where they make an arrest without reasonable ground as long as beating inflicting some injuries to the person with no reliable basis to do such act. Torture according to him, involves the use of excessive force by the police to their arrested person to admit certain offences. This conducted by hurting the person just force him to admit certain actuation. This refers to injurious way of interrogating the detainee or person in society.

Summary of Porkopolis by Alex Blanchette

Professor Blanchette opens his talk up with, in his 27 months of research, he found that 7 million hogs killed in new forms of profits within the pig as pigs have industrial value from their body. Blanchette talks about how much human knowledge it takes to maintain pigs at massive scales. He also mentions how artificial insemination in pig farms, runt nurses, and breeding causes all the pigs to be uniform (this is dangerous as there’s no genetic diversity; therefore, these pigs will be obliterated if any bacterial or viral disease attacks), the goal of Dover Industries and other pig slaughter house industries is for pigs to be uniform which make it great for meat.

Professor Blanchette gives some background to the Dover industry’s reaising of pigs through human labor detailing how the casual stroking of back causes imbalance in animals leading to miscarriages, how managers are hyper attuned to labor, and explains how Dover wants to be first vertical integration of pig farms, Dover Foods controls everything, a closed loop system benefiting the meat industries in the capitalistic society. What Dover Industries is trying to do (and what other meat-based industries are probably doing) is increase the pig species overall worth in industrialization by creating modes of distinction to increase their market shares. But, because of the specialization of the pigs, it affects human lives and schedules as well. Blanchett mentions how Pig disease was a huge problem for HUMANS, and this was seen as a huge threat to pig proliferation! Hormonal drugs for labor were used and given across the animals to maintain hormonal labor levels by human laborers using syringes which could ultimately backfire in the chaotic environments of the slaughterhouses impacting the humans.

Comparison of the two Ethnographies: Theory and Methodology

Porkopolis by Alex Blanchette is a fascinating ethnography of pig life and death in the industrial food system. Blanchette encourages readers to consider factory farms not just as places of dominance, but also as places where intimacy and exploitation coexist in complex ways. Blanchette takes readers into the workstations that underpin contemporary meat, from corporate offices and slaughterhouses to bone-rendering facilities and artificial insemination barns, based on nearly two years of ethnographic study. He describes the strong human-hog bonds and intimacies that form as a result of increased industry, demonstrating how even the most innocuous human action, such as a careless touch, can have major physical effects for animals. The quest for a totally uniform, standardized pig that can produce ingredients for over 1000 items causes environmental and social instabilities that alter people’s livelihoods. Blanchette utilizes factory farming to explore the complicated situation of industrial capitalism in the US today throughout Porkopolis, which contains dozens of pictures by Sean Sprague.

From a boar’s ejaculate and a sow’s artificial insemination to a hog’s birth, death, and disassembly into meat and viscera, the book is divided into five parts that follow the approximate life cycle of an industrialized pig. As Blanchette points out, the fragility of this industrial porcine lifecycle necessitates human involvement. As a result, each section of the book focuses on a different group of workers in the industry, such as “senior managers, low-level farm managers, farmworkers, slaughterhouse workers, and porcine entrepreneurs,” and their interactions with pigs and the animal agribusiness’s venture of systematic porcine life (25).

Each section generally begins with a shorter “interlude” chapter that uses an incident from Blanchette’s fieldwork to frame a significant problem in that section (xvii). Each vignette’s conflicts and research questions are then examined in depth in the second, longer chapter that follows. These larger second chapters could feel like single pieces if not for the interludes punctuated with Sprague’s images and Blanchette’s explicit consideration of organization as detailed in the book’s prefacing pages and introduction. They do not, however. Blanchette’s attention to narrative flow and argument unifies the book and gives it momentum all the way to the end.

Ralph, on the other hand, employs a different methodology in his letter. The opening chapter serves as an outline to the unusual formatting that will be used in subsequent chapters. The first part is a clarification of the attitude and protocol that an officer ought to adopt, which is then contrasted with the mentality of a soldier. According to the author, a soldier ought to be prepared to employ full force in any situation and work their way down as a method of survival, because hesitancy on the battlefield can cost a life. However, in contrast to how a police officer must be cautious and respectful of the law while using force, a civilian must be cautious and respectful of the law. In part because their methodology is Human Judgment, which can differ depending on conventions about their internalized danger levels, they define POC as the adversary who has to be subdued and controlled with full force.

The second part starts with a letter celebrating Eddie Johnson for being promoted to Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department on April 13, 2016, amid considerable resistance. However, the author warns that the superintendents being a POC will not make his work any easier, contradicting many who desired and felt that putting a POC in control would be the deciding element in reform. According to Ralph, his officers and office will be hampered by the weight of the preceding office, making it impossible to earn the trust of POC population.

The third part is a letter to the feminist Josephine Grayson, whose memory is linked to the “Martinsville Seven,” who were tried six times by a white six-man jury for gang rape of a white woman and hanged in February 1951. This chapter discussed the Jim Crow era and whether “Blacks were suitable to dwell among whites or were sexually voracious savages.” (pg. 104) Another goal of this chapter was to highlight the several protests that have sprung up in recent years in support of ending police brutality and segregation.

Meanwhile, the fourth part was a letter to all prospective Chicago mayors. It starts with Ralph Laurence using the torture tree as an analogy to help future mayors visualize the deep-rooted nature and huge presence of the use-of-force continuum on the society they are now destined to lead. Additionally, the assumption serves as an open letter to Andrew Willson, who died on November 19, 2007, in a prison hospital. The author uses Andrew Willson’s tragic existence to focus more emphasis on the individual ramifications of racial bias, police brutality in the judicial system for people of color, and how the Chicago PD tortured him during his imprisonment. This is additionally utilized to reiterate the writer’s strong opinion that no one ought to be ever be tortured, regardless of the offence.

Ralph ends the book with an open letter to the reader, addressing people who share his belief in the elimination of torture. The author communicates with the reader, explaining that the purpose of the book is to raise awareness of the issues and to pity those who have been affected by them. Additionally, he makes it clear that he did not uncover these tortures of unfair Police Brutality, but instead used symbolic and visual letters to victims and the people who can stop it to assist the reader comprehend the rationale and history of Torture as a tool of population control.

On the other hand, Professor Blanchette mentions that there are no GMO pigs in production as all genetic pigs in modern industry are produced solely through breeding which as I see it is technically a form of GMO as if you’re breeding the same pigs and many of them are genetically related, you are not allowing for genetic diversity. This circles back to my 10th grade European History class where the Bourgeois royalties would marry one another creating genetic malformities and diseases. Professor Blanchette also says that most of the cost of meat production is with feed, so with GMO costs of these feeds would maybe go down. Environ pig secreted saliva and made its poop have less phosperous to limit waste’s impact on environment; no body picked it up as the pigs are used for 210+ qualities, and many industrious people were more interested in cloning, but the same problem is seen where there is a lack of genetic diversity, thus making pigs more susceptible to disease. As mentioned before, because pigs are seen as wholly beneficial (Blanchett cites 210+ industry uses several times in the talk), humans are positioned to do the labor most of the time and in that it also endangers their physical safety as well as their emotional and mental safety as well.

The goal of this book is to look at the elimination of torture and police brutality, which has no practical use other than ‘retribution,’ and is employed against a minority group to enslave them in the novel’s context. In Chapter 9, the author discusses the historical ramifications of the three most prominent types of crowd violence. Since they are phases of crowd-violent growth, it is critical to distinguish these many forms as they relate to one another. Every state has its own definition of riots, which includes details such as the number of people required for a riot to occur. Riots are the least structured of the three primary types of crowd violence because they are unplanned events that occur in response to unexpected social or political occasions.

Another type of crowd violence is mobs, which are essentially crowds without a trigger occasion. The terminology “mob” is a highly politicized variant of the word “crowd,” as it has historically been used by aristocrats and the upper class to describe large crowds of disorderly common folk. They do, however, meet the criteria for the Expressive Mob group, as they saw violence as a way of expressing discontent, rioting, and hate speech as a way of expressing themselves, and violence as a collective manifestation of emotion.

In his letters, he encourages people in society to be vigilant and responsible for our rights and in defending person are being abused like victim of police violence and torture. Based on his letter he encourages to fight for the rights and preserving the rights of the citizens to prevent torture and violence. Police Violence and torture must be stop to keep public safe and to cut the illegalities being practices by some of the police therefore on his letter he advices to be a strong and become citizens with knowledge and being strong to promote human rights.

One of the theory that Ralph Laurence highlights in his book include how traumatic events that can cause PTSD and how intergenerational trauma can additionally develop from Violent traumatic events. The cost of violence and its ramifications is discussed in Chapter 12 of his book, with the author quickly clarifying that the price of violence is not exclusively measured in therapy bills and hospital, but also in the cost of the mental health of the victim due to the chronic stress and trauma they will experience as a consequence. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a case of the lasting effects of trauma which might last a victim’s entire life (PTSD). Traumatic incidents that induce PTSD might result in secondary victims who lose faith in their communities and institutions simply by being around or knowing someone who has been a victim of violence. He claims that the Chicago Police Department has made a profit by brutalizing African Americans and then releasing them back into their communities. By releasing the traumatized victims back into their communities in an attempt to deter residents from engaging in illegal activities, the African American communities would be subjected to stress and trauma, resulting in a generational divide between their communities and the Chicago Police Department, resulting in intergenerational trauma long after the torture had ended.

His book highlights the two perspectives on reactions to violence. The first is “the criminal justice approach to violence prevention is generally based on the concept of deterrence and punishment,” which is characterized as “the criminal justice reaction to violence prevention is generally based on the philosophy of punishment and deterrence” (p. 367). These take the shape of reformation programs targeted at minimizing gang violence, sexual assault, and other types of criminal justice, for instance, the death sentence. Additionally, it can take the types of policies like Problem-Oriented Policies, which try to actively involve the police in problem-solving in their communities prior to committing a crime. The Criminal Justice Response to Violence is the most traditional and well-known public response to violence, but it is also the most scrutinized in comparison to its perceived adversary. The second viewpoint that has received a lot of attention is the Public Health response, which, while aimed at combating violence, is essentially diverse from the Criminal Justice response in that it “does not pay attention solely or even predominantly to the perpetrator but instead tries to evaluate a broader range of variables which affect violence,” as its definition states (Pg.368). The criminal justice response should be replaced by the public health response, which is considered as a more advanced level of the violent response. Restorative justice is a type of public health approach that focuses on healing the damage caused by violence rather than assigning blame or imposing punishment. While the merits of these two approaches to violence have been debated, the basic truth is that they complement each other and conceal each other’s flaws.

In conclusion, the two authors are different in their theory and methodology. Porkopolis is a success. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it is extremely reading and fascinating. In the most disturbing and bizarre ways, it is also innovative and difficult. While this book is essential reading for people in the fields of animal studies, food studies, and labor studies, I feel it would also benefit both graduate and undergraduate students. Blanchette’s focus on the mundane aspects of industrial logics could lead to some incredibly fruitful discussions not only about life, death, and labor, but also about the depths of our unwitting and unwitting involvements in animal agriculture and how we interact with other beings. On the other hand, Ralph’s story is intertwined with the history of American imperialism. This is a devastating indictment of police violence and a fiery challenge to all Americans to demand a conclusion to the structures which sustain it, combining insights from fourteen years of torture study with stories of victims of police violence, demonstrators, lawyers and retired officers. Ralph exposes the intricate ties between police enforcement, the political system, and the courts in Chicago with compassion and skill, amplifying the voices of torture victims who are still alive—and offering a voice to those who have long died.


Blanchette, Alex. 2020. Porkopolis: American Animality, standardized life, & the factory farm. Duke University Press

Laurence Ralph, The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. Pp. 242.


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