First sparked through an interest in remote sensing and environments that began with an online project on satellites over ten years ago under the title of Signal Space, the material gathered together for this study on environmental sensing technologies has been a long time in the making. From urban sensing to automated gardens, I have developed an ongoing habit of attending to and working with technologies that would animate and monitor environments. Developed alongside prior work that I have assembled on electronic waste, this work on environmental sensing is also part of a larger project of attending to the environmental and material aspects of computational technologies. Sensor-based technologies are not only environmentally located; they also in-form and “program” environments, have environmental impacts, and take hold in particular environments, whether for managing or monitoring processes. As I outline in the pages that follow, this is an interdisciplinary and even postdisciplinary project of attending to these emerging technical objects and milieus.
As a modest disclaimer, I might also note that this study is inevitably incomplete, since it attends to an ever-growing area of environmental computing. There are many topics I was not able to accommodate fully in these pages. This is not a handbook for understanding the finer details of sensors as technical objects, nor is it a survey of the wide range of citizen-sensing or creative-practice projects using environmental sensors. Despite the earthly expanse of the title, this study is also not quite as “global” as it could be, since inevitably quite incisive discussions could be developed around the commercial, military, and even colonial unfoldings of ubiquitous computing in locations worldwide, with often uneven outcomes. While I engage with citizen-sensing practices here, this is also not primarily an ethnographic or practice-based study, since this work is still in development through a current collaborative research project that I am leading, Citizen Sense.
Instead, what I have developed here is more of a theoretical and ethico-aesthetic investigation that emphasizes both the environmental and sensor-based aspects of ubiquitous computing technologies and practices. As described in these pages, this work has also taken me to many locations where environmental sensing has been in use and under active development. This work would not have been possible if it were not for the generosity and attention of multiple interlocutors who have met up with me to discuss their research, made field sites available for visits, sent along notices for related events, and exchanged ideas about environmental sensors. While this is a far-from-comprehensive account, below are some of the people (and organizations) who have aided in the development of this work.
Thanks are due to the researchers on the CENS sensing project who hosted me during fieldwork conducted in 2008 both at UCLA and the UC James Reserve while writing chapters 1 and 2, including Mark Hansen, Deborah Estrin, Michael Hamilton, Eric Graham, Josh Hyman, Chuck Taylor, Katie Shilton, Hossein Falaki, and Becca Fenwick, among others. I am grateful to Matthew Fuller and Mike Michael for their helpful suggestions for improving and clarifying early versions of chapter 1. I presented a version of chapter 2 at the Emerging Landscapes conference at the University of Westminster, and I am thankful to the organizers and participants at this event for their feedback on this work.
Cecilia Mascolo at Cambridge University helped by meeting with me to discuss her work on monitoring badger movement in 2010 and sent me several key papers and event references to familiarize me with the field of movement ecology, which has informed my work in chapter 3. Erich Berger and Laura Beloff were generous hosts during my residency in Kilpisjärvi in 2012 and in creating a context for experimenting with the topic of environmental computing, which developed into the material written for chapter 4. This text has further benefited from participant and organizer feedback during the presentation given at Sense of Planet: The Arts and Ecology at Earth Magnitude, a National Institute for Experimental Arts symposium at the University of New South Wales (2012).
Chapter 5 would not have emerged if it were not for the generous invitation from Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent to write about the garbage patch for a workshop on technoscientific objects in 2012. Thanks are due to her, Sacha Loeve, Alfred Nordmann, and Astrid Schwarz for organizing this engaging writing workshop, as well as to participants for their feedback on earlier versions of this text. Thanks are also due to Richard Thompson, who provided multiple points of clarification and helpful suggestions on the topic of ocean plastics, and to Charles Moore, who pointed me to useful references on the “patches.”
The topic of air pollution developed in chapter 6 has benefited from discussions with Citizen Sense researchers, and thanks are due to Helen Pritchard and Nerea Calvillo for contributing to our first “Air Walk” in 2013, where we tested air-monitoring technologies. Benjamin Barratt and Andrew Grieve from the King’s College Environmental Research Group provided useful input on the details of monitoring air pollution in London. David Holstius, Virginia Teige, and Ron Cohen from the Beacon project at UC Berkeley, and Gayle Hagler and Ron Williams at EPA Research all shared their work on monitoring air pollution, which has provided a valuable resource for this research as well as ongoing Citizen Sense research. Versions of chapter 6 have been presented at the Citizen Scientist on the Move conference at Utrecht University (2012), at the Waag in Amsterdam (2012), at Pixelache in Helsinki (2012), and at the Multimodality Workshop at Cardiff University (2013).
A text that has been through the paces, chapter 7 has benefited from input from Bruce Braun, Stephanie Wakefield, and Natalie Oswin. Versions of chapter 7 have also been presented at the Green Apparatus session of the American Association of Geographers in Seattle (2011), the Platform Politics conference at Anglia Ruskin University (2011), the Digital Media Research Seminar at the University of Western Sydney (2012), the Media Places: Infrastructure, Space, Media symposium at HUMlab at Umeå University (2012), the Speculative Urbanisms seminar for the Urban Salon at University College London (2013), and the Mediating Uncertainty seminar at the London School of Economics (2014).
Chapter 8 has benefited from receptive and helpful comments from audiences at the Digital Citizen events at the Lewisham Library (2013), the Defining the Sensor Society symposium at Queensland University (2014), the Artistic and Cultural Strategies, Technology and Urban Transformations roundtable at Aarhus University (2014), and the Open Data / Smart Citizens seminar for the London Media Cities Network, Birkbeck, at University of London (2015). Thanks are due to the organizers and participants at these many events.
The research presented here has benefited from a long gestation while at Goldsmiths and demonstrates just how much this research environment has informed my thinking. I am thankful to colleagues and students (past and present), as well as Citizen Sense researchers, who have informed this work, whether directly or indirectly. An inevitably incomplete list includes Helen Pritchard, Evelyn Ruppert, Mike Michael, Bill Gaver and the Interaction Research Studio, Mariam Motamedi Fraser, Kat Jungnickel, Anja Kanngieser, Bev Skeggs, Roger Burrows, Tomoko Tamari, Mike Featherstone, Tahani Nadim, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Barbara Neves Alves, Matthew Fuller, Luciana Parisi, Susan Schuppli, Sarah Kember, Nina Wakeford, Rebecca Coleman, Jane Prophet, Lynn Turner, Simon O’Sullivan, and Ele Carpenter, along with students in the MA Design and Environment course who helped me test out ideas and examine environmental-sensing practices at an early stage of this research.
Further afield, and in addition to those mentioned above, thanks are due to many colleagues, friends, and students for intellectual and creative exchanges, as well as logistical support. Again, a partial list includes Gay Hawkins, Adrian Mackenzie, Lucy Suchman, Clare Waterton, Rebecca Ellis, Blanca Callen, Alex Taylor, Søren Pold, Christian Andersen, Anne-Sophie Witzke, Lea Schick, Winnie Soon, Geoff Cox, Martin Brynskov, Kristina Lindström, Äsa Ståhl, Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, Gillian Rose, Sophie Watson, Doina Petrescu, Nishat Awan, Kim Trogal, Rosi Braidotti, Nicole Starosielski, Janet Walker, Lisa Parks, Mel Y. Chen, Kim Fortun, Jennie Olofsson, Finn Arne Jørgensen, Christophe Lécuyer, Mark Andrejevic, Mark Burdon, Douglas Kahn, Jill Bennett, Ned Rossiter, Soenke Zehle, Sarah Barns, Etienne Turpin, Tomas Holderness, Cat Kramer, Zack Denfeld, Cesar Harada, Joel McKim, Scott Rodgers, Kathryn Yusoff, Brandon Labelle, Christian Nold, Muki Haklay, Dennis Quirin, Vivian Chang, Fernando Dominguez Rubio, Amy Zhang, Will Straw, Johanne Sloan, and John Trice. Special thanks are due to the two initially anonymous reviewers of this text, Steven Shaviro and Kevin McHugh, who provided insightful and perceptive feedback. At the University of Minnesota Press, Doug Armato, Erin Warholm, and Danielle Kasprzak astutely guided me through the publication of this text.
The early fieldwork for this research was made possible through seed funding from Goldsmiths, University of London (2007 and 2009–2010). The research leading to these results has also received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 313347, “Citizen Sensing and Environmental Practice: Assessing Participatory Engagements with Environments through Sensor Technologies” (2013–2017).