Topic: Beyond fascinating smart tools: “everyday digitalization” and the governance of agriculture and food
Digital technologies and robotics have opened up intriguing new perspectives for thinking about the future of farming and food. Notably, a good deal of hope is placed in these new technologies, and in their potential for minimizing the environmental impact of agricultural practices and food production. Collecting extensive data sets on farms and the food chain, and connecting these to tools and machinery, is thought to harbour great potential for control, monitoring, and optimization. In short, like many other sectors of the economy, agriculture and food have entered the era of Big Data.
Despite a clear domination of the discussion by the disciplinary lenses of economics, agronomy, and technology sciences, social sciences have still demonstrated that this new era is driven by far more than the allure of innovative technologies or intelligent machines. In this paper however argue that the existing literature on the social dimension of agri-food digitalization has focused on “spotlight digitalization”, generally overlooking significant aspects of the change happening in society that I would call “everyday digitalization”. Indeed, notably in research focussing on the farm level, there is a concentration of studies looking at highly innovative practices and digital tools (precision agriculture, robots, etc.). While this is no doubt a very important field of enquiry, this focus nevertheless ignores and even renders invisible a number of other aspects central to digital technologies in the governance of agriculture. These include, for instance, the increased bureaucratization of agriculture that these technologies induce, as well as alternative uses of these new technologies by less powerful actors as with, for example, the increased use of smartphones and apps.
Based on a starting research project and the literature, this paper aims to explore some of the new research avenues that an “everyday digitalization” approach might open in the context of agri-environmental governance more specifically.