Explore Cardiff University

Reconfiguring Users in Automated Farming: Cows, Farmers and Robotic Milking

Dr. Chris Bear, School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University
Tuesday 19th March 2013 - 4:00pm
Council Chamber, Glamorgan Building

Public Seminar series hosted by the Environment Research Group.

This paper builds on recent research in human geography, rural studies, and STS to explore the relationship between technologies and their ‘users’. This work has problematized accounts of a simple adoption process, instead proposing that users adapt technologies and that, in turn, technologies are designed to ‘configure’ their users. However, as Morris and Holloway (2013:10) have noted, existing research has failed to consider the implications of conceptualising nonhumans, such as animals, as users of technologies.

This paper explores such a conceptualisation by investigating robotic milking systems and their use on UK dairy farms. Having briefly sketched the key features and history of these systems, the paper begins by outlining the discourse of innovation diffusion and adoption used by manufacturers of the robots. Subsequently, drawing on interviews with farmers and observational work on farms, it examines the reconfiguration of farming practice that follows installation. This reconfiguration is not a simple result of technological impact, however, and rather involves a co-constitution of farmer, cow and technology. As such, the main empirical focus of the paper is on the processes of learning, experimentation, adaptation and configuration that co-constitute conversion to robotic milking.

The paper concludes by examining the implications of this co-constitution for the conceptualisation of technological ‘users’, arguing that such terminology masks the power relationships and multidimensional transformational qualities of more-than-human encounters.