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CFP: Environment as Algorithm

2013 October 17
by Shared by Steve Rust

*Political Ecologies of the Environment as Algorithm*

Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference on Nature and Society (DOPE)

Lexington, KY February 26-March 1, 2014, 

Organizer: Eric Nost, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This session will explore the relationship between software and environmental change and conflict within two overlapping thematic areas: 1) the roles played by computer code in generating ecological knowledge; 2) the use of social media in conservation and environmental activism. From Silicon Valley startups writing programs that turn satellite imagery of Amazon deforestation into data for activists and hedge fund managers alike, to scripts that coordinate “smart” meters of everything from home energy use to reservoir water levels in an “internet of things,” algorithms executed by code reshape environmental management through new techniques of visualization, displacement of existing knowledge regimes, and integration with other logics like financialization. While scholars have fruitfully developed ways of thinking about code and the making of everyday space (Kitchin and Dodge 2011), the goal of this session is to start to try to understand code’s production of nature. Building from political ecologists’ long history of investigating the creation, uses, and abuses of knowledge about particular environments, such a research program means understanding the effects of, for instance, automatic sorting algorithms, the agency and power of code, and the contexts in which algorithms are written, deployed, and evaluated. Likewise, we aim for similar themes – effects, agencies, and contexts – in papers that address the role or conspicuous absence of social media in environmental movements and conservation. NGOs, governments, and corporations all deploy strategies of, for example, enrolling citizens/consumers to share their opinion on conservation plans (B’scher 2013). This kind of use of social media has the potential to legitimate existing decision-making regimes, but, as in citizen environmental monitoring, may also open up new political possibilities. In this session we will explore how and why new technologies produce one or the other result.

Possible topics might include: – Remote sensing and environmental indicators in investment, risk assessment, and/or (re)insurance – Data collection and modelling for ecosystem service markets and payment schemes – Smart cities, Internets of Things, and continuous environmental monitoring – Use of social media for conservation planning and implementation – Open access software and/or social media in citizen science

Express interest in participating in the session by emailing by December 2, 2013. Participants will need to submit an abstract and register at the conference website:

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