Smart Forests

How are forests becoming digital environments?

The Smart Forests project investigates the social-political impacts of digital technologies that monitor and govern forest environments.

The SmartForests project is led by Professor Jennifer Gabrys and is part of the Planetary Praxis research group based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Funded through a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, the project investigates the increasing use of digital technologies to monitor and manage forests for addressing environmental change.

Forests are crucial to acting on environmental change. They are key contributors to the carbon cycle and biodiversity, as well as air and water quality. At the same time, digital technologies are reshaping forests in order to manage and enhance their environmental contributions. However, these new technologies are generating social-political impacts that have yet to be extensively researched. This project addresses the crucial question of how forests are becoming “smart” through the increasing use of digital technologies to manage these environments. Smart forests span locations from Germany to New York City to Thailand, and from remote to urban areas.

SmartForests asks not just how digital technologies are remaking forests, but also investigates how forests become social-political technologies for addressing environmental change. Situated at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS), political ecology and digital media studies, the research will demonstrate how these technologies impact socio-ecological relations, and will propose more equitable approaches to digital and environmental practice and policy.

For an overview of the Smart Forests project, see: Jennifer Gabrys, “Smart forests and data practices: From the Internet of Trees to planetary governance,” Big Data & Society (14 February 2020), 1-10.