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Technology and restructuring the social field of dairy farming : hybrid capitals, ‘stockmanship’ and automatic milking systems

Butler, Deborah; Holloway, Lewis


Deborah Butler

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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


This paper draws on research exploring robotic and information technologies in livestock agriculture. Using Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) as an example we use the work of Bourdieu to illustrate how technology can be seen as restructuring the practices of dairy farming, the nature of what it is to be a dairy farmer, and the wider field of dairy farming. Approaching technology in this way and by drawing particularly upon the ‘thinking tools’ (Grenfell, 2008) of Pierre Bourdieu, namely field, capital and habitus, the paper critically examines the relevance of Bourdieu’s thought to the study of technology. In the heterogeneous agricultural context of dairy farming, we expand on Bourdieu’s types of capital to define what we have called ‘hybrid’ capital involving human-cow-technology collectives. The concept of hybrid capital expresses how the use of a new technology can shift power relations within the dairy field, affecting human-animal relations and changing the habitus of the stock person. Hybrid capital is produced through a co-investment of stock keepers, cows and technologies, and can become economically and culturally valuable within a rapidly restructuring dairying field when invested in making dairy farming more efficient and changing farmers’ social status and work-life balance. The paper shows how AMS and this emergent hybrid capital is associated with new but contested definitions of what counts as ‘good’ dairy farming practice, and with the emergence of new modes of dairy farmer habitus, within a wider dairy farming field whose contours are being redrawn through the implementation of new robotic and information technologies.


Butler, D., & Holloway, L. (2016). Technology and restructuring the social field of dairy farming : hybrid capitals, ‘stockmanship’ and automatic milking systems. Sociologia ruralis, 56(4), 513-530.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 16, 2015
Online Publication Date Sep 2, 2015
Publication Date 2016-10
Deposit Date Aug 4, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Sociologia ruralis
Print ISSN 0038-0199
Electronic ISSN 1467-9523
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 56
Issue 4
Pages 513-530
Keywords Geography
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: Sociologia ruralis, 2016, v.56, issue 4


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