About Smart Forests

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. Smart forests span locations from Germany to New York City to Thailand, and from remote to urban areas. 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. Our research project considers how forests and technologies are co-constituted. Rather than advocate for smartness, we question how and why forests are becoming technologically optimised to address environmental change.

Experimental forest with sensors.
Experimental forest with sensors.

While there is now extensive research on smart cities, other “smart” environments have been less well studied. This is problematic, since it is necessary to assess how these technologies enable and constrain particular modes of governance and engagement. Without this research, smart environments such as smart forests run the risk of producing social-political inequities and undemocratic governance, as has been identified with smart cities. Using inventive digital practices, fieldwork, participatory workshops and mapping, the research will investigate the transformation of forests and forest communities through digital technologies. Through five project areas, the research will analyze the ways in which forest technologies are transforming practices of observing, mitigating, participating in, and regulating environmental change.

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) 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.

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.

For an overview of the Smart Forests project, explore Smart Forests publications.

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