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

Holloway, Lewis; Wilkinson, Katy; Bear, Christopher


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Professor Lewis Holloway
Professor of Human Geography, Director of Research (School of Environmental Science), Chair of the Faculty of Science and Engineering Ethics Committee

Katy Wilkinson

Christopher Bear


Robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) are novel technologies that take over the labor of dairy farming and reduce the need for human-animal interactions. Because robotic milking involves the replacement of 'conventional' twice-a-day milking managed by people with a system that supposedly allows cows the freedom to be milked automatically whenever they choose, some claim 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. 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 that 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. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


Holloway, L., Wilkinson, K., & Bear, C. (2014). Robotic milking technologies and renegotiating situated ethical relationships on UK dairy farms. Agriculture and human values, 31(2), 185-199.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 22, 2013
Online Publication Date Oct 31, 2013
Publication Date 2014-06
Deposit Date Jul 1, 2015
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Agriculture and human values
Print ISSN 0889-048X
Electronic ISSN 1572-8366
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 31
Issue 2
Pages 185-199
Keywords Situated ethics, Dairy farming, Robotic milking, UK, Technology, Animal studies
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Agriculture and human values, 2014, v.31, issue 2. The final publication is available at Springer via


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