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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Social and ethical implications of data and technology use on farms: a qualitative study of Swedish dairy and pig farmers

Doidge, Charlotte; Frossling, Jenny; Dorea, Fernanda C.; Ordell, Anna; Vidal, Gema; Kaler, Jasmeet


IntroductionLivestock farmers are being increasingly encouraged to adopt digital health technologies on their farms. Digital innovations may have unintended consequences, but there tends to be a pro-innovation bias in previous literature. This has led to a movement towards "responsible innovation," an approach that questions the social and ethical challenges of research and innovation. This paper explores the social and ethical issues of data and technologies on Swedish dairy and pig farms from a critical perspective.MethodsSix focus groups were conducted with thirteen dairy and thirteen pig farmers. The data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis and a digital critical health lens, which focuses on concepts of identity and power.Results and discussionThe analysis generated four themes: extending the self, sense of agency, quantifying animals, and managing human labour. The findings suggest that technologies can change and form the identities of farmers, their workers, and animals by increasing the visibility of behaviours and bodies through data collection. Technologies can also facilitate techniques of power such as conforming to norms, hierarchical surveillance, and segregation of populations based on data. There were many contradictions in the way that technology was used on farms which suggests that farmers cannot be dichotomised into those who are opposed to and those that support adoption of technologies. Emotions and morality played an important role in the way animals were managed and technologies were used by farmers. Thus, when developing innovations, we need to consider users' feelings and attachments towards the technologies. Technologies have different impacts on farmers and farm workers which suggests that we need to ensure that we understand the perspectives of multiple user groups when developing innovations, including those that might be least empowered.


responsible innovation; precision livestock farming; power; identity; focus groups; pig farmers; dairy farmers

Published in

Frontiers in Veterinary Science
2023, Volume: 10, article number: 1171107

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Sociology (excluding Social work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
    Other Veterinary Science

    Publication Identifiers


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