STS Colloquium to Feature Michelle Westerlaken:
Biodiversity Technologies and Community Engagement: Who Participates in Creating Environmental Futures?
Environmental technologies, such as those monitoring and simulating biodiversity, are producing valuable scientific data that can help to mitigate environmental degradation. But Science and Technology Studies (STS) research also showed that the technoscientific focus of these innovations obscure how they can reinforce inequalities and produce one-sided narratives. Most recently, new initiatives propose the creation of digital twins or other automated virtual infrastructures combining increasingly larger datasets to identify biodiversity. But how does biodiversity data gain meaning within local communities? This presentation, based on several ethnographic and participatory design projects, illustrates how human and more-than-human community engagement reveals far richer and more multidimensional interactions with biodiversity data and multispecies relations. By working together with a rural community, multispecies entities, and open-data interfaces this research produced methodological insights on participatory research as well as specific proposals for rethinking digital environmental technologies. These include approaches to challenge injustices, build community platforms, and unsettle participation to involve more diverse human and multispecies communities.
Michelle Westerlaken is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge (UK), with a PhD in Interaction Design from Malmö University (Sweden).