Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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‘I wouldn’t want to be a cow’: An ethnographic exploration of more-than-human relational praxis on a New Zealand dairy farm

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Version 1 2021-12-09, 11:31
posted on 2021-12-09, 11:31 authored by Goulding, Audrey

This thesis aims to understand how industrial farmers perceive and relate to the nonhuman world. A small-scale ethnographic focus of a 250-cow dairy farm in New Zealand’s Rangitikei district is presented as a proxy for approaching the underexamined field of farming ontologies. A common narrative exists that western ontology is characterised by human exceptionalism, a belief in humanity as singularly subjective beings amid a mute and objective world. Contrary to this discourse, this thesis finds that farmer relations to the nonhuman world are multiple, complex and contingent. This thesis employs Annemarie Mol’s (2002) understanding of ontology as established through practice, and thereby multiple, in conjunction with a material analysis of the farm as a composite ecology of human and nonhuman agents. I argue that industrial agricultural practice is informed both by transcendent, objectivist logics, and by co-constituted, informal knowledge formed through co-habitation of multispecies lifeworlds. The unruly agency of lively materials, and the affective and intersubjective qualities of interspecies interactions, are shown to figure conditionally in farming practice. These components are managed within the bounds of industrial agriculture’s outwardly utilitarian and anthropocentric systems through responsive practices of care and attentiveness, revealing that an attribution of nonhuman agency and subjectivity is essential to industrial farming practice.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cultural Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Sissons, Jeff; Otsuki, Grant