Visualizing Human-Animal-Technology Relations

Field Notes, Still Photography, and Digital Video on the Robotic Dairy Farm

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, United
  • | 2 University Offices, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, University of Hull, United Kingdom
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This paper explores the potential for less anthropocentric approaches to researching human-nonhuman relations through visual ethnography, critically examining the conceptualization of nonhuman animals as participants. Arguing that method in animal studies has developed more slowly than theory, it proposes visual approaches as a way of foregrounding nonhuman animals’ behavior and actions in “social” research. Questioning the meaning of “participation,” this challenges underlying anthropocentric assumptions of visual ethnography. The paper presents a comparison of approaches used in studying sites, moments and movements of robotic milking on United Kingdom dairy farms: field notes, still photography, and digital video. While visual approaches are not a panacea for more-than-human research, we suggest that they offer a means through which nonhumans might “speak for themselves.” Rather than presenting definitive accounts, including video in such work also leaves the actions of nonhumans open to further interpretation, destabilizing the centrality of the researcher.

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