Citizen science projects are increasingly transforming into citizen sensing projects, where digital devices equipped with sensors are used to monitor environments and gather data. Practices of monitoring and sensing environments that were once the focus of scientific disciplines have migrated to a number of everyday participatory applications, where users of smart phones and networked devices are able to track, study and report on environments. Such citizen sensing projects intend to democratize the collection and use of environmental sensor data in order to facilitate expanded citizen engagement in environmental issues. But how effective are these practices of citizen sensing in not just providing “crowd-sourced” data sets, but also in giving rise to new modes of environmental awareness and practice? Through a discussion of several creative practice and science-based citizen sensing projects, this paper will investigate the relationship between digital technologies, practices of environmental sensing, and citizen engagement. The paper will consider the extent to which new practices of environmental citizenship are configured through technological modes of sensing, and how a politics of sensing emerges through these digital modalities.
Jennifer Gabrys is Senior Lecturer and Convenor of the MA Design and Environment at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research investigates environments, material processes and communication technologies through theoretical and practice-based work. Projects within this area include a recently published book, Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011), which examines the material processes of digital media through electronic waste; and a study currently underway on citizen sensing and environmental processes, titled Program Earth: Environment as Experiment in Sensing Technology.