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Bovine and human becomings in histories of dairy technologies: robotic milking systems and remaking animal and human subjectivity



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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 positions the recent emergence of robotic or automatic milking systems (AMS) in relation to discourses surrounding the longer history of milking technologies in the UK and elsewhere. The mechanisation of milking has been associated with sets of hopes and anxieties which permeated the transition from hand to increasingly automated forms of milking. This transition has affected the relationships between humans and cows on dairy farms, producing different modes of cow and human agency and subjectivity. In this paper, drawing on empirical evidence from a research project exploring AMS use in contemporary farms, we examine how ongoing debates about the benefits (or otherwise) of AMS relate to longer-term discursive currents surrounding the historical emergence of milking technologies and their implications for efficient farming and the human and bovine experience of milk production. We illustrate how technological change is in part based on understandings of people and cows, at the same time as bovine and human agency and subjectivity are entrained and reconfigured in relation to emerging milking technologies, so that what it is to be a cow or human becomes different as technologies change. We illustrate how this results from – and in – competing ways of understanding cows: as active agents, as contributing to technological design, as ‘free’, as ‘responsible’ and/or as requiring surveillance and discipline, and as efficient co-producers, with milking technologies, of milk.


HOLLOWAY, L., & BEAR, C. (2017). Bovine and human becomings in histories of dairy technologies: robotic milking systems and remaking animal and human subjectivity. BJHS Themes, 2, 215-234.

Acceptance Date Feb 4, 2017
Online Publication Date Mar 2, 2017
Publication Date Mar 2, 2017
Deposit Date Feb 8, 2017
Publicly Available Date Mar 2, 2017
Journal BJHS Themes
Print ISSN 2058-850X
Electronic ISSN 2056-354X
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Pages 215-234
Keywords Robotic milking systems
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copy of article published in: BJHS themes, 2017, v.2.


Published article (193 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© British Society for the History of Science 2017<br /> This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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