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Technogeographies – sensing from a non-human perspective

This week we examined ‘sensing’ – environmental awareness, observation and data collection – and ‘sensing practices’ – the different ways in which sensing and practice emerge, take hold and form attachments across environmental material, political and aesthetic concerns, subjects and milieus. In this context the term ‘milieu’ refers to an ‘atmosphere with qualities’ – a microcosm of relationships.

We looked at various types of sensing: pollution (e.g. air and water quality, radiation levels); urban (e.g. smart architecture, sustainability), computational (e.g. Shlomi Mir’s tumbleweed robot, Nikki Pugh’s bat gloves), citizen, and wild (i.e. plants, animals).

Sensing has been explored by a number of scientists and artists, and we were introduced to three of these: (1) Richard Lowenberg, whose work on the film The Secret Life of Plants (1976) used biotelemetry systems to monitor dancers’ brainwaves alongside audio output generated by the electrode sensing of plant physiology; (2) the Amphibious Architecture project (2009) by the Living Architecture Lab and Natalie Jeremijenko, in which buoys with sensors below water monitored water quality and presence of fish while lights above water responded to the sensors and created feedback loops between humans, fish and their shared environment; and (3) Jennifer Gabrys, who in 2011 was based at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland and investigating climate change sensing.

I’m interested in Gabrys’ work covering sensing from a non-human perspective (or ‘more-than-human’ as Gabrys puts it), and away from the traditional human-centred focus. She views citizen sensing as not simply an extension of the human and the traditional ‘senses’, but rather as new ‘technogeographies.’

Gabrys asks the question: What is a citizen?

“Besides the different ways of monitoring environments across arts and science practices, this perspective also shifts when we consider the ways in which the multiple other inhabitants of milieus, including more-than-humans, sense environments…Citizens might no longer be conceived of as exclusively human subjects endowed with rights, but rather through relationships that at turns make us responsive to changes in our environments or otherwise generate alternative ways of engaging with the multiple modes of sensing that take place in milieus.”

This ties in with Whitehead’s (1929) investigations into organising and understanding experience from a posthuman perspective.

I also like Gabrys’ idea of ‘collaborative sensing’ – the ways in which shared worlds are felt, sustained and created (cf. TallBear, 2011).

Perhaps the ultimate aim is to achieve a ‘common world’ in which there is a milieu among a diversity of milieus that is actively made through shared inhabitations and experiences?