Thursday, September 3, 2015

AAG 2016 CFP: Political Ecologies of Technology

AAG 2016 CFP: Political Ecologies of Technology
Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, 29 March – 2 April 2016, San Francisco

Anthony Levenda | Urban Studies, Portland State University
Dillon Mahmoudi | Urban Studies, Portland State University
Eric Nost | Geography, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Heather Rosenfeld | Geography, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Ashton Wesner | Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California - Berkeley

New forms of data production, management, analysis, and use are increasingly coming to bear on realms familiar to political ecologists: conservation, agriculture, resource extraction, the city, and the body. Political ecology (PE) is marked by its attention to situating socio-environmental change materially and discursively through the political economic contexts of concrete “land managers.” This has meant examining the making and application of knowledge about environments (Lave 2012) as well as the social movements and identities that arise around and through nature (e.g. gender; Carney 1993). Urban political ecologists (UPE) in particular have used infrastructure to show that the circulation of power is bound together with nature’s production and circulation (Heynen et al. 2006). As such, political ecologists have long dealt with various technologies - broadly defined, and digital or otherwise (e.g. GIS - Weiner et al. 1995; remote sensing (RS) - Robbins 2001) - often noting how their introduction changes specific landscapes, livelihoods, and access to resources.

With growing interest in and use of digital tools to know and transform nature, a renewed focus on the political ecology of technology is necessary. In environmental governance, for example, new kinds of RS hardware, ecosystem modelling tools, and data visualization programs may both extend and transform existing gender, colonial, capitalist, and other relations through automation, rapid processing, displacement of existing knowledge regimes, and integration of ecosystem data with financial logics (Johnson 2013). Taking technology as a focal point, political ecologists can learn from feminist and critical race scholars who through studies on the industrial revolution of the home and DNA sequencing/mapping, have pointed to the ways in which technologies tend to embed and entrench existing social relations and patterns of accumulation (Cowan 1985; Wajcman 1991, 2008; Tallbear 2013). However, the conditions under which such technologies are developed and deployed - and the nature of the technologies themselves - remain understudied in the subject areas familiar to political ecologists, raising questions about how to characterize the contexts and actors driving environmental change (Robbins and Bishop 2008; Rocheleau 2008; Braun and Whatmore 2010; Meehan 2013) and socionatural “metabolism” (Heynen et al. 2006).

We believe political ecologists are well-equipped to approach these questions and that PE’s emphasis on contextualization offers unique perspectives to critical technology studies in general, beyond the realms of conservation and development. We invite topical and conceptual papers from political ecologists and others addressing the relationship between software, data, technology, and environment, with a critical lens on how these technologies produce, transmute, and/or subvert social relations along intersecting axes of race, gender, class, ability, and immigration status. Specifically, we seek papers that address the following questions:

  1. What kinds of landscapes are produced by algorithmic decision-making? (Weiner et al 1995; Robbins 2001)
  2. If we take Angelo & Waschmuth’s (2014, 2) call for urban political ecology (UPE) to examine “the dimensions of urbanization processes that exceed the confines of the traditional city,” how might we examine the UPE of digitally enhanced infrastructures that facilitate flows of nature into the city (and urbanized nature out of it)
  3. What does it mean to see like a “cyborg state”? (Scott 1998; Haraway 2013) How do new technologies, such as “dashboards”, facilitate abstraction, quantification, and representation, changing state strategies for conceptualizing and acting on socio-ecological complexity and enabling control and discipline?
  4. In turn, how do land managers use social media, new kinds of RS, and other technologies to resist this control, or in conservation politics in general? (Büscher 2013)
  5. In what ways does "nature" - in various guises - appear in software engineering and software architecture to serve as a guiding metaphor (e.g. software "ecosystem" or data “mining”)? In turn, what are the "ideologies of nature" (Smith 2008 [1984]) that arise from and alongside specific technologies?
  6. What monsters, creatures, and other figures can help us critically approach and better understand uneven human-technology-environment relations?
We wish to do so while opening up fruitful discussion around conditions of historical context and social relations in PE. Ultimately, with PE's focus on social and environmental justice and equity, we ask, alongside Robbins and Moore (2015), under what conditions does technology embody, enact, and enable more abundant socio-ecological futures (Collard et al. 2015)? Under what conditions does it perpetuate violence?

Those who would like to participate in the session should contact by October 22 with a brief statement of interest or an abstract. Session participants will need to submit an abstract and register for the conference by October 29.


Braun, Bruce and Sarah Whatmore, eds. 2010. Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy and Public Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 319pp.

Büscher B. 2013. Nature 2.0. Geoforum 44 (May):1–3

Carney, Judith A. 1993. Converting the Wetlands, Engendering the Environment:  The  Intersection of Gender with Agrarian Change in Gambia. Economic Geography 69(4): 329-348.

Collard, R-C., J. Dempsey, J. Sundberg. 2015. A manifesto for abundant futures. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 105(2): 322-330.

Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, 2013.

Heynen, N., M. Kaika & E. Swyngedouw.  (2006). “Urban political ecology: politicizing the production of urban natures.” In Heynen, N., M. Kaika & E. Swyngedouw (eds.) In the nature of cities: Urban political ecology and the politics of urban metabolism.   New York: Routledge, pp.1-19.

Johnson, L. 2013. Catastrophe bonds and financial risk: Securing capital and rule through
contingency. Geoforum 45: 30-40.

Lave, R. 2012. Bridging Political Ecology and STS: A Field Analysis of the Rosgen Wars. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102 (2):366-382.

Meehan, K. 2013. Tool-power: Water infrastructure as wellsprings of state power. Geoforum 57 (1): 215-224.

Robbins, P. 2001. Fixed Categories in a Portable Landscape: The Causes and Consequences of Land-Cover Categorization. Environment and Planning A 33 (1): 161–80.

Robbins, P. and K. Bishop. 2008. There and back again: Epiphany, disillusionment, and rediscovery in political ecology. Geoforum 39: 747-755.

Robbins, P. and S. Moore, 2015. “Love Your Symptoms: A Sympathetic Diagnosis of the Ecomodernist Manifesto” Accessed July 24, 2015.

Rocheleau, D.E. 2008. Political Ecology in the key of policy: from chains of explanation to webs of relation. Geoforum 39: 716-727

Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press.

Smith N. 2008. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space, 2nd edition,
University of Georgia Press: Athens, GA.

Stengers, Isabelle, and Jane Bennett. Political Matter: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life. Edited by Bruce Braun and Sarah J. Whatmore. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2010.
TallBear, Kim. 2013. Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity. Social Studies of Science 43(4): 509-534.
Wajcman, Judy. Feminism Confronts Technology. Penn State Press, 1991.
Weiner, D., TA Warner, TM Harris, and RM Levin. 1995. “Apartheid representations in a digital landscape: GIS, remote sensing and local knowledge in Kiepersol, South Africa.” Cartography and Geographic Information Systems 22(1): 30-44.

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