The electromagnetic fields in Maxwell's theory satisfy linear equations in the classical vacuum. This is modified in classical non-linear electrodynamic theories. To date there has been little experimental evidence that any of these modified theories are tenable. However with the advent of high-intensity lasers and powerful laboratory magnetic fields this situation may be changing. We argue that an approach involving the self-consistent relativistic motion of a smooth fluid-like distribution of matter (composed of a large number of charged or neutral particles) in an electromagnetic field offers a viable theoretical framework in which to explore the experimental consequences of non-linear electrodynamics. We construct such a model based on the theory of Born and Infeld and suggest that a simple laboratory experiment involving the propagation of light in a static magnetic field could be used to place bounds on the fundamental coupling in that theory. Such a framework has many applications including a new description of the motion of particles in modern accelerators and plasmas as well as phenomena in astrophysical contexts such as in the environment of magnetars, quasars and gamma-ray bursts.