PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Big Data in Food and Agriculture

Irena Knezevic  

As big data become a site for critical scholarship across many disciplines, scholars caution data enthusiasts that the ways in which big data are generated and used is intimately bound up with questions of justice and ethics; for example, how are large data sets used and to whose benefit? What forms of scientific knowledge are promoted by big data technologies? What changes and what stays the same under these technological shifts toward large integrated data systems? We apply these questions to the field of food studies to assess the role of contemporary information and communication technologies in the world of food and agriculture. It might not be immediately apparent how large sets of numbers organized systematically have any relevance for the production and marketing of food, but they do. Arguably, much historical crop monitoring constitutes big data. Farming in the industrialized world, even that happening at the small scale, is increasingly carried out with computerized tools and by drawing on information in databases; knowledge, of weather systems for example, is generated through the management, analysis, and interpretation of large volumes of data. Farmers are encouraged to adopt new communication technologies for data collection, analysis and monitoring of farm-level systems through appeals to the realization of greater business intelligence. Information is often "crowd-sourced" from farmers through web and mobile applications. Proponents of these technologies promise a level of precision, information storage, processing, and analyzing that was previously technologically impossible. Our paper will offer theoretical observations pertaining to how the study of science and technology communication in the era of big data can contribute to the growing field of food studies. We will share preliminary empirical findings on how new communication technologies used to generate big data (re)create particular forms of agricultural scientific knowledge in their development, use and marketing.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.