Digital Agriculture and Smart Foodscapes

Smart farming, big data, robotics, and digitalisation have quickly become the new buzzwords in agrifood circles. While the technical and natural sciences have engaged with the subject of digital food and farming applications for decades, the social sciences are only now starting to give the subject the attention it deserves, despite the fact that social and cultural aspects of this new technical turn are obvious. Automatisation changes the organisation of farms, transforms the relations between human and non-human actors, and requests new knowledges at every stage of the agricultural knowledge system; drones open a new relation to the agricultural spaces; apps change the way knowledge and advice can circulate; data collection disrupts conventional farm management practices and networks; social media has developed dramatically in food and agricultural activism; etc. While these different aspects each present their own challenges, they share similarities too. Many of these technologies generate tremendous volumes of data, calling for new discussions about use, access, and ownership. They also open new domains and perspectives for the governance of agriculture, while also reassembling the networks of actors around agriculture, introducing new actors and disqualifying others. Research in these areas also faces several news challenges at the level of methods, both qualitative and quantitative, and epistemology.
This working group aims at federating the limited (but growing) critical social science scholarship that has developed on these diverse topics and provide a much-needed platform for exchanges and collaborations between scholars working in relation to what one of us has called in a recent article in Sociologia Ruralis the “agro-digital governance” turn in agriculture. Digitalisation in agriculture is an emerging field in social sciences that opens to very transversal problematic. In this sense, its interest is not limited to a few specialists. New technologies impact progressively all the aspects of rural life and agriculture. Therefore, we believe that strengthening scientific dialog and networking around these topics will be beneficial for the discipline at large.

Coordinator: Jérémie Forney, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, jeremie.forney@unine.ch