Topic: The competing sustainabilities of digital agriculture
keywords: sustainability; technological values; big data; food regimes; qualitative
This paper opens the category of “sustainability” to inquiry in the context of the design and use of agricultural big data and attending platforms. It works to reveal how ideas and ideals on sustainability are bound up with the production of the socio-ecological order. Digitization of food production, under the application of sensors for collecting data and intelligent machines for mining them, is thought to present sustainability gains by substituting information for harmful or scarce inputs (Bongiovanni and DeBoer, 2004). This paper does not directly challenge this sustainability hope for innovation-led agricultural change; Instead, it leverages a science studies theoretical lens (Sugimoto et al., 2016) to unveil how multiple visions for, and ideals of, sustainability are held by social actors involved in the imagining, shaping and resistance of digital agriculture. Drawing on interviews with over 40 funders, designers and endusers of big data applications in North America, the paper reveals divergent materializations of digital agriculture which feed into competing “food regimes” (Friedmann and McMichael,1989).