Anthony Ryan Hatch, Tess Solot-Kehl, Julie Wise, Nettie Hitt, Sumaiya Sabnam, Terri Thirsty, Soléa Fiester, Angie Collado, Shoko Narasaki, Elsa Dupuy d’Angeac, Ella Zaslow, Tyler Lederer-Plaskett, and Ray Toomer

In the early to mid-20th century, metabolism cages emerged as key experimental infrastructures in animal studies used to capture, control, and isolate the metabolic processes unfolding within a subject’s body. By placing new world animals (rodents, primates) in cages, precisely controlling their food and water intake, and monitoring and analyzing their biowaste, scientists developed a powerful set of knowledges about how bodies and environments interact, specifically food environments. Metabolism cages facilitate the measurement of the biological effects of scientized and industrial living on organisms. Scientists had to secure bodies inside metabolism cages in order to open the black box of metabolism. For European and American scientists, metabolism operated like a black box, a machine that transforms inputs into outputs through unknown and/or hidden mechanisms and transformations. Opening the black box of metabolism required new practices of mechanical, biological, and social design. Each used a version of a metabolism cage to open different aspects of the black box of metabolism. For the kept, this opening up of metabolism required their capture and confinement in actual metabolism cages for as long as necessary to answer science’s questions.  

Drawing on critical race and feminist STS, animal studies, and creative methods we open the black box of metabolism cages to explore their history as carceral technologies that order bodies, nutrients, and knowledges as part of a broader scheme to establish metabolic dominance over multispecies life. By tracing patterns in the theorization, design, and uptake of metabolism cages, we aim to demonstrate how economic and social prerogatives become integrated into scientific infrastructures that contribute to metabolic dominance. This project offers a 200-year design history of metabolism cages and a sociological critique of their role in establishing metabolic dominance over animal lives. It features a scholarly book, an interactive sculpture called Dollhouse, and an interactive digital platform called the Menagerie with an accompanying playing card set. The project draws on archival, creative, and comparative research methods to perform a genealogy of metabolism cages that opens them up for critical decommissioning. For more background on the project, read “The Pharmacy Prison: Auditing Pharmaceutical Regimes” in Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America, “Billions Served: Prison Food Regimes, Nutritional Punishment, and Gastronomical Resistance” in Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life, and “Fighting Metabolic Dominance” in Culture as Catalyst.

Creative Scholarship

We invite you to peruse The Grand Digital Menagerie, a digital interactive that centers the power relationships between the keepers and the kept in metabolism cage research.

We invite you to marvel at the animated movement of food and pharmacopeia through the Nalgene Metabolism Cage.

Project History

Early articulations of this project aimed at visualizing prison as an environmental spaces with ecological histories. Below, you can watch a video describing these early efforts. Watch “Visualizing Corporate Ecologies in the Carceral State” by Anthony Ryan Hatch and Black Box Labs, recorded for the conference Behind Walls, Beyond Discipline: Science, Technology, & the Carceral State at the University of Michigan, May 14-June 11, 2021.