Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 185–199 | Cite as

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

  • Lewis HollowayEmail author
  • Christopher Bear
  • Katy Wilkinson


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.


Situated ethics Dairy farming Robotic milking UK Technology Animal studies 



Automatic milking systems


Environmental virtue ethic of care



The authors would like to thank three reviewers and the editor of this journal for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. We would also like to thank the audiences who heard various oral presentations of the paper and provided encouraging and helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lewis Holloway
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher Bear
    • 2
  • Katy Wilkinson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Geography, Environment and Earth SciencesUniversity of HullHullUK
  2. 2.School of Planning and Geography, Glamorgan BuildingCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  3. 3.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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