Toxic Intimacies: An Urban Indian Cow Ethnography

Authors: Kelsi Nagy*, University of Oxford
Topics: Animal Geographies, Urban Geography, Field Methods
Keywords: Ethnography, Animal Geographies, Urban Geography, Plastic Pollution
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Plaza Court 5, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Based on multispecies ethnographic research about one urban Indian dairy cow, this paper will focus on the shared suffering (Haraway, 2008) of humans and cattle in the dairy industry. Attempting to understand the city from a cow’s point of view the city is revealed as a human built and dominated space of risk and opportunity for animals. Urban dairy cows are exploited by humans for their milk and abuses that exist in the dairy industry also effect these cattle. Yet, some of these cows are considered family members who have names and are seen as intelligent creatures that have the ability to form bonds with their owners, navigate the city, and behave comfortably and safely around human strangers. The positive aspects of the cow’s experience of the city is contrasted with the anonymous and confined treatment and abuse of unique and curious animals in industrialized systems. Close observation of an urban cow’s experience in the city also shows that consumption of human-food waste entangled with plastic is common and it is possible that milk from these cows contain environmental pollutants from plastics. Studying a cow as an ethnographic subject also illuminates material intimacies through food humans have with the milk and meat from cows, which are also often entangled in plastic packaging. One “plastic cow” becomes a symbol for larger toxic intimacies between humans, plastics, and cows.

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