Algorithmic Ecologies: Shifting Environmental Governance Regimes in the Age of Big Data

Authors: Lily House-Peters*, California State University, Long Beach
Topics: Environment, Anthropocene, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: big data, governance, technology, robots, nature, political ecology, digital geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Advances in technology and big data analytics are increasingly targeting the environment, reshaping environmental perception and producing new encounters with and understandings of nature. As environmental monitoring becomes the routine work of UAVs/drones, autonomous sensor networks, and mobile robotic platforms, socio-natural relations are rescripted and new environmental governance regimes emerge. The ability of monitoring systems to collect and wirelessly transmit data at continuous time scales, reach remote locations, and conduct panoramic measurements also serve to shift the temporal and spatial dimensions of environmental perception. Big environmental data produced by these systems is coupled with the proliferation of powerful modeling tools and the rise of integrated data analytics software. Thus, the triumvirate of big data, environmental modeling, and integrated data analytics is producing ‘algorithmic ecologies’, transforming not only how we know nature, but the discursive formations that arise, and the environmental interventions that become possible.

Yet, attention in geography to these processes remains limited. In this paper, drawing on the subfields of political ecology and digital geography, I aim to theorize how the rise of robots and robotic technologies reorganize ways of knowing, seeing, and talking about nature and the environment. Focusing on case studies from the water industry and urban heat research, I demonstrate that discursive shifts are taking place as a result of increased reliance on robotics in environmental monitoring and big data analysis. I argue these shifts have significant implications for the production of nature, coining the term ‘algorithmic ecologies’, and future environmental governance regimes.

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