No Neutral Intermediary: Data and the Assembling of Agri-Environmental Worlds

Authors: Matthew Henry*, Massey University, Sarah Edwards, Lincoln University, Christopher Rosin, Lincoln University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Australia and New Zealand, Environment
Keywords: Data assemblages, agri-environmental data, New Zealand
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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Data is essential to governing those emerging matters of concern that confront agri-environmental futures. A specific ‘crisis’ or failure–such as a disease outbreak or environmental degradation–frequently elicits calls for more data, initiating novel attempts to control a complex and feral reality producing unanticipated and potentially undesirable outcomes. Imagined in this way data is a tool to make objects and relationships visible, discern the different qualities of those relationships, and provide calculative possibilities for creating different futures.But data is no neutral intermediary. It disrupts, exposes and creates new social, economic, political and environmental possibilities, whilst simultaneously hiding, excluding and foreclosing others. The agency of data to create and disrupt economic, social and political relationships has been demonstrated in work on the emergence of surveillance capitalism and the growing power of technology platforms as mediators in the assemblage of social worlds. A developing body of of international agrifood research increasingly focuses on the embedding and performativity of data platforms in agri-environmental relations.In this paper we highlight key themes in the emerging study of agri-environmental data, and also delineate gaps where further progress can be made in exploring the active and lively role of data. Drawing on examples from New Zealand we argue that emerging agri-environmental data research programmes need to develop historically and spatially nuanced accounts of the world making work of data relationships that pay specific attention to the infrastructures, performativity and ferality of data.

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