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Making milking bodies in the Manawatu : assembling "good cow"-"good farmer" relationships in productionist dairy farming : a dissertation presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This research traces the material and social relations of dairy cows and dairy farmers in productionist dairy farming. Life story interviews and participant observation on dairy farms reveal how dairy cow/dairy farmer relationships take diverse forms in response to competing demands in productionist dairy farming. Seeking ways of understanding the complexities inherent in dairy cow/dairy farmer relationships, I enrolled dairy cows as ethnographic research participants. Embodied, sensory and empathic participant observation methods led to understandings of how humanimal relationships form across species boundaries. My research findings suggest that deeply embedded cultural narratives of what it means to be a “good farmer” may conflict with the multiplicity of “good cow” identities. Dairy cows create tension for dairy farmers: dairy farmers work with dairy cows as production machines; but also care for dairy cows as co-workers. This ethnographic humanimal research highlights how dairy cows and dairy farmers are not fixed as “good” or “bad”. Rather, through an anthropological appropriation of Actor Network Theory, this research highlights how dairy cow/dairy farmer networks form and reform (in part) through unintentional and intentional dairy cow agency.