Robotic milking technologies and renegotiating situated ethical relationships on UK dairy farms

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Holloway, Lewis ; Bear, Christopher ; Wilkinson, Katy (2014)

Robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) 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 and welfare benefits for cows, increases productivity, and has lifestyle advantages for dairy farmers. This paper examines how established ethical relations on dairy farms are unsettled by the intervention of a radically different technology such as AMS, and that the renegotiation of ethical relationships is thus an important dimension of how the actors involved are re-assembled around a new technology. The paper draws on in-depth research on UK dairy farms comparing those using conventional milking technologies with those using AMS. We explore the situated ethical relations which are negotiated in practice, focusing on the contingent and complex nature of human-animal-technology interactions. We show that ethical relations are situated and emergent, and that as the identities, roles and subjectivities of humans and animals are unsettled through the intervention of a new technology, the ethical relations also shift.
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