The smart farm at the end of the smart grid: linking land and labor in digital infrastructure studies

Authors: Kendra Kintzi*, Cornell University, Hilary Oliva Faxon, UC Berkeley
Topics: Development
Keywords: Digital Geography, Infrastructure, Digital Agriculture, Smart Cities
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 45
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The digitization of social and material worlds through what some call the Internet of Things increasingly transects the urban and the rural, the intimate and the remote; yet recent scholarship on smart agriculture and smart cities often reifies an artificial divide between town and countryside and between the politics of labor and the politics of land. Revisiting classic insights into the need to link land, labor, and livelihood struggles in the contemporary global context of shifting flows of people, data, and capital, we recenter social and spatial interconnection as a key lens through which to view the material transformation of urban-rural environments and the possibilities for broader mobilization and social change. In this paper, we draw from ethnographic work in Southeast Asia and the Middle East to interrogate the ways in which digital infrastructures build on and shift existing land-labor dynamics in the Global South. We argue that understanding the material and political possibilities of emergent digital infrastructures requires situating them in specific historical landscapes of mobility and dispossession. We focus on digital agriculture and smart electricity grids to demonstrate the entanglement of rural and urban lives on the land, attending to the ways in which histories of racialized, gendered, and class exclusions profoundly shape how diverse groups of activists, farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, refugees, and migrants build and inhabit the new spaces of digital infrastructure. This approach moves our focus beyond the web-based interactions of private, Western users, foregrounding the global scale and social-material interconnections of digital transformation.

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