Automating agroecology? – towards a design manifesto for ecofeminist robotics

Authors: Clemens Driessen*, Wageningen University, Lenora Ditzler, Wageningen University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Agricultural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Robots, agroecology, agriculture,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Roosevelt 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Developments in robotics, remote sensing, pattern recognition, drone technology and GPS based precision farming are currently reshaping crops, landscapes and farmers. Most associated visions aim to optimize the efficiency of high-inputs industrial agriculture. However, against the implicit ideal of generic independent robots patrolling monocultural fields, more critical and creative engagement with the possibilities of robots and agriculture is emerging.

The alternative promise of high-tech, low-input agroecological systems aiming to transform intensive farming practices in the Global North, raises the question whether the wider ethos of agroecology can be maintained and inform the design of (partly) automated agricultural practices.

What are possible political ecologies of agroecological automation? Does automation of tasks necessarily displace people from spaces of production, further locking-in trends of urbanization and increasing capital inputs in agriculture? Or would it allow for multiple scales of economically viable production, meaningful work, and communal cultural practices? Can local, embodied, and even indigenous knowledges be meaningfully blended with artificial intelligence? Can we design an aesthetic experience and epistemological practice that combines remote sensing and intimate sensuous relationships with the earth? Is it possible to integrate not just the ecological but also the cultural, socio-economic and political program associated with agroecology in the design of agroecological robotics?

Based on fieldwork on an experimental farm, interviews and design workshops in the Netherlands with robotics and organic farming researchers, and building on artistic work on eco-robotics and (eco-)feminist approaches to technology development, we aim to present a tentative manifesto of design principles for agroecological robotics.

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