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.

In October 2022, we launched our research platform the Smart Forests Atlas—a living archive and virtual fieldsite exploring how digital technologies are transforming forests. The Atlas platform includes open data from the Smart Forests project, and provides tools for researchers, stakeholders and publics to gather, explore, analyse, annotate, reflect on and reimagine smart forest knowledges and technologies.

The Smart Forests 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.

Smart Forests 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:

Westerlaken, Michelle, Jennifer Gabrys, Danilo Urzedo, and Max Ritts. “Unsettling Participation by Foregrounding More-Than-Human Relations in Digital Forests.” Environmental Humanities (Forthcoming, accepted 8 August 2022).

Gabrys, Jennifer. “Internet of Trees.” In More Posthuman Glossary. Edited by Rosi Braidotti, Emily Jones, and Goda Klumbyte. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2022. Forthcoming.

Westerlaken, Michelle, Jennifer Gabrys, and Danilo Urzedo. “Digital Gardening with a Forest Atlas: Designing a Pluralistic and Participatory Open-Data Platform.” In PDC ‘22: Proceedings of the 17th Participatory Design Conference 2022 – Embracing Cosmologies: Expanding Worlds of Participatory Design, Vol. 2 (August 2022), 25-32.

Gabrys, Jennifer, Michelle Westerlaken, Danilo Urzedo, Max Ritts, and Trishant Simlai. “Reworking the Political in Digital Forests: The Cosmopolitics of Socio-technical Worlds.” Progress in Environmental Geography (12 August 2022).

Urzedo, Danilo, Michelle Westerlaken, and Jennifer Gabrys. “Digitalizing Forest Landscape Restoration: A Social and Political Analysis of Emerging Technological Practices.” Environmental Politics (20 July 2022).

Gabrys, Jennifer. “Programming Nature as Infrastructure in the Smart Forest City.” In the anniversary special issue, Splintering Urbanism at 20. Edited by Colin McFarlane, Alan Wiig, Jonathan Rutherford, and Andrew Karvonen. Journal of Urban Technology 29, no. 1 (2022): 13-19.

Gabrys, Jennifer. “The Forest That Walks: Digital Fieldwork and Distributions of Site.” In the special issue, Critical Walking Methodologies and Oblique Agitations of Place. Edited by Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman (WalkingLab). Qualitative Inquiry 28, no. 2 (2022): 228-235. First published online 4 September 2021.

Gabrys, Jennifer. “Smart Forests and Data Practices: From the Internet of Trees to Planetary Governance.” Big Data & Society 7, no. 1 (14 February 2020): 1-10.