Sensing an Experimental Forest

Sap FlowThe use of wireless sensor networks to study environmental phenomena is an increasingly prevalent practice, and ecological applications of sensors have been central to the development of wireless sensor networks that now extend to numerous ‘participatory’ applications. How might environmental sensing projects be understood as giving rise to new practices for sensing environmental processes, and what are the implications of these new modalities of sense? Working through posthuman media theory, as well as engaging with Alfred North Whitehead’s approach to ‘experience’ as something that is embodied across human and more-than-human subjects, this paper considers how distributed sensor technologies contribute to new sensory processes by shifting the relations, entities, occasions, and interpretive registers of sensing.

Focusing specifically on one environmental sensor test site, the James Reserve in California, the paper suggests that these experimental environmental sensor arrangements mobilize distinct sensing practices that are generative of new environmental abstractions and entities. How do the interpretative practices that develop through experimental environmental sensing then inform environmental matters of concern? What are the implications of these experimental environmental sensing arrangements as they migrate into policy, and as they inform participatory sensing processes?

Published in the online open-access journal, Computational Culture, issue 2 (28 September 2012)