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Subjecting cows to robots: farming technologies and the making of animal subjects

Holloway, Lewis


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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


Recent representations of human-animal relationships in farming have tended to focus on human experience, and to essentialise animal subjectivity in granting them a centred subjectivity akin to that assumed to be possessed by humans. Instead, this paper develops an understanding of the coproduction of domestic livestock animal subjectivities and the technologies used in farming domestic livestock animals, based on an analysis of texts produced by agricultural scientists, farmers, and equipment manufacturers relating to the effects of introducing new robotic milking technologies into dairy farming. Drawing particularly on Foucault's conceptions of subjectivity and biopower, I explore the emergence of particular forms of bovine subjectivity associated with robotic milking. Through an analysis of a wide range of secondary sources, the paper shows that, although robotic technologies have been presented as offering cows 'freedom', better welfare, and a more 'natural' experience, other relations of domination come into effect in association with such technologies and their spatialities. These are expressed through the manipulation of animal bodies and behaviours, in expectations that cows move and act in particular ways, and through normalisation and individualisation processes. I argue that nonhuman animal subjectivities in agriculture are thus heterogeneous, fluid, and contingent on specific sets of relationships between animals, humans, and technologies and on specific agricultural microgeographies. The paper ends by acknowledging that these relationships need further empirical exploration in terms of both attempts to understand animals' changed experiences and ways of being, and their ethical implications in particular situations.


Holloway, L. (2007). Subjecting cows to robots: farming technologies and the making of animal subjects. Environment and planning. D, Society & space, 25(6), 1041-1060.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jul 22, 2016
Publication Date Dec 1, 2007
Print ISSN 0263-7758
Electronic ISSN 1472-3433
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 6
Pages 1041-1060
Keywords Geography, Planning and Development; Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
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