Citizen Sensing (Jennifer Gabrys & Anne Lehtelä)
(Attending: Luis, Sarah, Melissa M., Tiina, Jurate, Paz, Rosanne)
In our collective evening ‘Open Discussion’ of environmental data issues, our sub-group considered the topic of citizen sensing. We began our conversation by asking who or what is a citizen, and how different notions of ‘citizen’ might inform the types of sensing that take place. Could more-than-humans be considered to be distinct contributors to citizen sensing, thereby making this activity a less human-centric practice?
We discussed examples of citizen sensing projects from Beatriz da Costa’s Pigeon Blog, where pigeons carry air pollution sensors and create more-than-human maps of urban air pollution, to the dontflush.me project, which uses proximity sensors to inform New Yorkers when to avoid flushing the loo when the sewer system may be at capacity and in danger of dispersing waste into the harbour.
While we had initially hoped to develop speculative practices around what other forms of citizen sensing practices might look like if new ideas about ‘citizens’ were introduced into citizen sensing practices, many participants were concerned about the use of the term ‘citizen’ to describe more-than-humans. Don’t citizens have free will and rights? Aren’t animals simply the props for human experiments into sensing? Are these sensing practices perhaps even exploitative?
Other examples of citizen sensing emerged, however, that began to test the idea of new arrangements of citizenship. One project reference, the Million Trees NYC project in New York, was cited as an example of a practice where crowd sourcing was used to identify where trees may be planted in the city. Once planted, the trees may be monitored and reported about in order to ensure their longevity. Such a practice of urban tree stewardship implies a relationship with the trees, and environmental ‘citizenship’ might be practiced through ‘sensing’—with or without computational devices—the trees and their local environment.
New arrangements of citizen sensing—and environmental practice and politics—might emerge at this intersection where citizens are no longer conceived of as exclusively human subjects endowed with rights, but rather through citizen relationships that make us responsive to changes in our environments.