Dreaming the Digital Farm: Anticipating and Producing the Futures of Digital Agriculture with Phoebe Sengers & Jen Liu
Speakers: Phoebe Sengers and Jen Liu
Location: 135 Emerson or on Zoom
Technological advances in digital or data-driven agriculture (DA) are often motivated by visions of farms transformed by the potential of digital technologies to become more productive, require less labor, and improve their environmental footprint. Social scientists warn, however, that these new technologies also have the potential for more concerning outcomes, such as further consolidating the agricultural industry, intensifying and entrenching industrial agriculture, and sidelining farmer expertise. In this talk, we will describe results from a 4-year project to integrate computer networking research, sociology of technology and agriculture, and research through design to understand and improve future-making practices in digital agriculture. Our ethnographic work reveals how emerging technologies for digital agriculture are certainly informed by the explicit visions that technical researchers hold. Nevertheless, this work is strongly constrained and shaped by the institutional and disciplinary structures in ways that tend to flatten those visions and focus researchers’ attention instead on what will work in the present. As a result, technological reasoning about the future is often unintentionally conservative, reproducing current concepts of what is thought to work. We introduce methods drawing from speculative design and speculative fiction that more richly illuminate the futures that current technologies produce and suggest alternative pathways for technical exploration. Our goal is to use these alternative methods of envisionment to enrich engineers’ and policy-makers’ capacity for imagining and working towards the futures of DA.
This talk describes joint work with Shiang Chin, Donny Persaud, Lara Roeven, Gloire Rubambiza, Hakim Weatherspoon, and Steven Wolf (Cornell), as well as Brian Obach (SUNY New Palz),Susan Wyche (MSU), and the Northumbria University Interaction Design Studio.
Phoebe Sengers is a Professor in Information Science and Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. Her research integrates ethnographic and historical analysis of the social implications of technology with design methods to suggest alternative future possibilities. Her current research emphasis is on the effect of infrastructure in rural communities and how to improve its design. She is the lead PI on an interdisciplinary NSF project on improving the societal impact of farm networking and is a member of the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture.
Jen Liu is a PhD candidate in Information Science at Cornell University. Her research examines the ecological, social, and political implications of computing technologies and infrastructures. In her work, Jen uses qualitative and design methods to understand how to build alternatives for livable and equitable futures. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. She is also currently a fellow with the Critical Infrastructure Lab at the University of Amsterdam. Jen holds a BFA in Fiber Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a Masters in Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon University.
Light refreshments will be served in Emerson Hall.