Extending Social Theory to Farm Animals: Addressing Alienation in the Dairy Sector

Diana Stuart, Rebecca L. Schewe, Ryan Gunderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


We extend social theory to farm animals in an attempt to illustrate how non-human animals embedded in social systems can be examined using sociological concepts. Inspired by efforts to include the freedom to express natural behaviour in farm animal welfare standards, we apply Marx's conception of alienation to dairy cows. We first examine industrial dairy farm conditions and find that these systems result in the distortion of life and the suppression of physical and social needs. We then explore alienation in an alternative production system where cows graze on pasture and choose when to be milked by robotic milking machines. Based on farm visits and interviews with farmers, we find that this alternative system addresses several aspects of alienation found in industrial dairy farms. However, despite the benefits associated with alternative production systems, forms of alienation will persist in all systems where maximising profits remains prioritised over life and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-222
Number of pages22
JournalSociologia Ruralis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Extending Social Theory to Farm Animals: Addressing Alienation in the Dairy Sector'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this