As part of a day-long event on citizen science at the Dana Centre in London, Jennifer Gabrys and Helen Pritchard of the Citizen Sense project presented research on more-than-human contributions to citizen sensing. Presenting papers as part of the Royal Geographic Society-IBG Annual International Conference 2013, Gabrys and Pritchard contributed to the panel, “Participation in Science: More-than-Human Participation,” chaired by Christian Nold (University College London), with additional contributions by Dorien Zandbergen (Leiden University, The Netherlands) and Michelle Bastian (University of Edinburgh).

In her presentation, “Ecological Observatories: Fluctuating Sites and Sensing Subjects,” Jennifer Gabrys, questioned what it means to monitor and participate in environmental sensing through her experience at an arts-and-sciences residency at a biological field station in Finnish Lapland. Based on her fieldwork and with references to citizen-sensing projects and creative practices, she interrogated the role of sensor technologies in distributing and constructing new fields of sensation, and the role of sensing itself as a mode of engaging with environmental concerns. Drawing on Braidotti’s (2006) notion of an ecological approach to citizenship, she developed the notion of how new arrangements of environmental monitoring and distributed sensing shift the spaces and practices of environmental participation to include more-than-humans in new ways. To her, this developed expressions of “fluctuating sites and sensing subjects,” which may push the boundaries of who and what counts as a “citizen.” In this way, these shared and extended practices of sensing may inform different processes of environmental citizenship.

Following the discussion on the creative capacities and potentialities of sensing, Helen Pritchard focused in her presentation “Thinking with the Animal-Hacker: Articulation in Ecologies of Earth Observation,” on how sensing and data-gathering practices reconfigure encounters with more-than-humans and the biophysical world. Using her art-based research and fieldwork at the Environmental Virtual Observatory, a large scale project in which distributed sensors monitor and upload more-than-human environmental processes to a cloud computing infrastructure, she questioned how by not only sensing non-humans but also by co-writing with them we might consider them to be non-human hackers. She developed the figure of the “animal-hacker,” an assemblage of more-than-humans, humans and computation, to discuss emerging computational entanglements with non-human ecologies. The purpose of engaging with the animal-hacker figure is for Pritchard to co-create with non-humans other computational environments, which may on the one hand find new potentialities through hacking, and on the other hand serve as a possible invitation to reconsider Haraway’s (2007) notion of “otherness” and start thinking about other ways of “worlding.”

Pritchard’s proposal of other-worlding through the animal-hacker engages with Gabrys’s interest in how the redistribution of citizen-sensing and citizenship may enable new “modes of togetherness” (Whitehead 1938). In both presentations, the process of sensing environments reconfigures sites, sensation, and relations with more-than-humans, and presents the possibility for other encounters with citizenship.

References:

  • Braidotti, Rosi. Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge: Polity, 2006.
  • Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,  2007.
  • Whitehead, Alfred N. Modes of Thought. New York: The Free Press, 1938.

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