While technology has widely been formulated as antithetical to nature, there has been an increased adoption of digital set-ups to promote and enact environmental conservation. My PhD thesis examines a range of digital technologies more commonly used for nature-related activities (e.g., mobile applications for crowdsourcing data, satellite tracking and mapping facilities, animal-borne sensors, and visual imaging equipment such as cameras and sonar devices) with two objectives.
First, at an applied level, I sought to locate the new set-ups being used, and to unfold the technical, practical and relational issues emerging from this use. Second, at a more abstract level, I aimed to better understand the sociological implications of deploying these technologies, in terms of the definitions of ‘nature’ being ‘produced’ and how the devices might be (re)shaping human-nature relationships.
Four areas were studied to meet these two objectives: wildlife monitoring and recording, public engagement efforts by conservation organisations, conflict management, and digital art production. These contexts formed the data chapters of my PhD dissertation, and the findings resulted from an inter-disciplinary, qualitative research enquiry rooted in social sciences perspectives, framed by constructionism. This research aligns itself broadly with science and technology studies (STS), and more specifically with the emerging area of Digital Conservation.
With regard to the first aim, my research found that the technologies used by organisations and practitioners had the capacity to increase public participation as well as the quantity and quality of nature-related data and information, and could contribute to the formulation of environmental conservation strategies. However, these capacities did not come without issues such as the continued relegation of public participants to passive roles and amplification of struggles over legitimacy in terms of production and interpretation of data wrought from new devices
In relation to the second aim, I found that digital technological set-ups (re)configured the ways in which wildlife in particular was seen and understood, and revealed both enmeshment and persistent binaries along the emotion/cognition and nature/culture axes. These findings highlight the role of emotions in conservation, and point to increasing complexities in how humans define and relate to nature.
The four areas I studied are presented in my dissertation as data chapters, and each chapter has been prepared as draft manuscripts for publication, so please watch this space for updates; or contact me if you’d like more details or to discuss my work.