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Bovine and human becomings in histories of dairy technologies: robotic milking systems and remaking animal and human subjectivity

  • LEWIS HOLLOWAY (a1) and CHRISTOPHER BEAR (a2)
Abstract
Abstract

This paper positions the recent emergence of robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) in relation to discourses surrounding the longer history of milking technologies in the UK and elsewhere. The mechanization of milking has been associated with sets of hopes and anxieties which permeated the transition from hand to increasingly automated forms of milking. This transition has affected the relationships between humans and cows on dairy farms, producing different modes of cow and human agency and subjectivity. In this paper, drawing on empirical evidence from a research project exploring AMS use in contemporary farms, we examine how ongoing debates about the benefits (or otherwise) of AMS relate to longer-term discursive currents surrounding the historical emergence of milking technologies and their implications for efficient farming and the human and bovine experience of milk production. We illustrate how technological change is in part based on understandings of people and cows, at the same time as bovine and human agency and subjectivity are entrained and reconfigured in relation to emerging milking technologies, so that what it is to be a cow or human becomes different as technologies change. We illustrate how this results from – and in – competing ways of understanding cows: as active agents, as contributing to technological design, as ‘free’, as ‘responsible’ and/or requiring surveillance and discipline, and as efficient co-producers, with milking technologies, of milk.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Lewis Holloway , ‘Subjecting cows to robots: farming technologies and the making of animal subjects’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (2007) 25, pp. 10411060

Lewis Holloway , Christopher Bear and Katy Wilkinson , ‘Re-capturing bovine life: robot–cow relationships, freedom and control in dairy farming’, Journal of Rural Studies (2014) 33, pp. 131140

Lewis Holloway , Katy Wilkinson and Christopher Bear , ‘Robotic milking technologies and renegotiating situated ethical relationships on UK dairy farms’, Agriculture and Human Values (2014) 31, pp. 185199

Edith Whetham , ‘The mechanisation of British farming 1910–1945’, Journal of Agricultural Economics (1970) 21, pp. 317331

Henk Hogveen and Wijbrand Ouweltjes , ‘Sensors and management support in high-technology milking’, Journal of Animal Science (2003) 81, pp. 110

Deborah Valenze , ‘The art of women and the business of men: women's work and the dairy industry c.1740–1840’, Past and Present (1991) 130, pp. 142169

Deborah Butler and Lewis Holloway , ‘Technology and restructuring the social field of dairy farming: hybrid capitals, “stockmanship” and automatic milking systems’, Sociologia Ruralis (2015) 56, pp. 513530

Albert Meijering , Henk Hogeveen and Kees de Koning (eds.), Automatic Milking: A Better Understanding, Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers, 2004

Jacylyn Jacobs and Janice Seigford , ‘The impact of automatic milking systems on dairy cow management, behaviour, health and welfare’, Journal of Dairy Science (2012) 95, pp. 22272247

Christopher Bear , Katy Wilkinson and Lewis Holloway , ‘Visualizing human–animal–technology relations: field notes, still photography, and digital video on the robotic dairy farm’, Society and Animals (2016), doi 10.1163/15685306-12341405

Judith Tsouvalis , Susanne Seymour and Charles Watkins , ‘Exploring knowledge-cultures: precision farming, yield mapping, and the expert–farmer interface’, Environment and Planning A (2000) 32, pp. 909924

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BJHS Themes
  • ISSN: 2058-850X
  • EISSN: 2056-354X
  • URL: /core/journals/bjhs-themes
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