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Sociology Research


What are the social-political impacts of smart forests, as digital technologies that are becoming key strategies for addressing environmental change?

Forests are crucial to acting on environmental change. They are key contributors to the carbon cycle and biodiversity, as well as air and water quality. At the same time, digital technologies are reshaping forests in order to manage and enhance their environmental contributions. However, these new technologies are generating social-political impacts that have yet to be extensively researched.

For the first time, this groundbreaking project addresses the vital question of how forests are becoming “smart” through the increasing use of digital technologies to manage these environments. Smart forests span locations from Germany to New York City to Thailand, and from remote to urban areas. While there is now extensive research on smart cities, other “smart” environments have been less well studied. This is problematic, since it is necessary to assess how these technologies enable and constrain particular modes of governance and engagement. Without this research, smart environments such as smart forests run the risk of producing social-political inequities and undemocratic governance, as has been identified with smart cities.

Using inventive digital practices, fieldwork, participatory workshops and mapping, the research project studies the transformation of forests and forest communities through digital technologies. Through 5 case studies, the project analyzes the ways in which forest technologies are transforming practices of observing, mitigating, participating in, and regulating environmental change. SmartForests asks not just how digital technologies are remaking forests, but also investigates how forests become social-political technologies for addressing environmental change. Situated at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS), digital media studies and political ecology, the research demonstrates how these technologies impact socio-ecological relations, and proposes more equitable approaches to digital and environmental practice and policy.

Principal Investigator: Professor Jennifer Gabrys

Postdoctoral Research Associates: Dr Michelle WesterlakenDr Trishant Simlai

Research Theme: Science and Technology

Funding: European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (866006)

Project Duration: 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2025

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