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Re-capturing bovine life: robot-cow relationships, freedom and control in dairy farming

Holloway, Lewis, Wilkinson, Katy and Bear, Christopher 2011. Re-capturing bovine life: robot-cow relationships, freedom and control in dairy farming. Presented at: Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference, London, UK, 31 August – 2 September 2011.

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Robotic milking machines are novel technologies that take over the labour of dairy farming and reduce the need for human-animal interactions. Replacing ‘conventional’ twice-a-day milking managed by people with a system that supposedly allows cows the freedom to be milked automatically whenever they choose, it is claimed that robotic milking has health, welfare and productivity benefits for cows, as well as having lifestyle advantages for dairy farmers. Such claims are certainly contested, but, the installation of robotic milkers clearly establishes new forms of relationships between cows, technologies and dairy farmers. This paper draws on in-depth interviews with farmers and observational research on farms to examine some of the implications of these emerging relationships. We focus on two issues. First, we explore changes in what it is to ‘be bovine’ in relation to milking robots, drawing on a combination of a discursive framing of cows’ behaviour and ‘nature’ by dairy farmers and on-farm observation of cow-technology interaction. Second, we examine how such changes in bovinity might be articulated through conceptions of biopower which focus on knowledge of and intervention in the life of both the individual cow body and the herd. Such knowledge and intervention in the newly created sites of the robotic milking dairy are integral to these remodelled, disciplinary farm systems. Here, cows’ bodies, movements and subjectivities are trained and manipulated in accordance with a persistent discourse of agricultural productivism. In discussing these issues, the paper seeks to show how particular representations of cows, the production of embodied bovine behaviours, technological interventions and micro-geographies contribute to a re-capturing and re-enclosure of bovine life which counters the liberatory discourses which are used to promote robotic milking.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Geography and Planning (GEOPL)
Subjects: S Agriculture > SF Animal culture
Funders: ESRC
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Last Modified: 07 Nov 2019 09:06

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