Data, Satellites, and Environmental Knowledge

Proposal for a symposium at the 11th ESHS Conference, Barcelona 4-7 September 2024. Science, technology, humanity and the Earth.

Title of the symposium: Data, satellites and environmental knowledge

Scientific, economic and political knowledge about the environment today relies enormously on satellite data about the oceans, the atmosphere, the land surfaces and the ice. These data are actively collected, processed, shared and maintained through a knowledge infrastructure that turns measurements made in the orbits into environmental information ready-to-be-used by various social groups. Satellite data are thus relevant research objects, inherently social and technical artefacts, whose building and maintenance must be historically contextualized. Connecting satellite data back to the context in which they were produced, disseminated and used, allows us to emphasize how satellite data were defined, who controlled them, and why they matter today.

This symposium aims to open the black box that usually surrounds satellite data production, dissemination, maintenance and use. It presents empirical cases that examine the complex array of individual actors, institutions and forms of organization that intervene in the development, maintenance, dissemination and use of satellite data, the sociotechnical arrangements from which they emerge, and the power relations, inequalities, values, routines and norms that go with them. Some of the topics that we wish to explore are:

– Sociotechnical infrastructures (e.g. who produces and who accesses satellite data, how and under what conditions; what models of data sharing have been developed (open, public-private partnerships); what activities are carried out to promote satellite data, and at what scale (international, regional, national));

– Governance (e.g. how access, ownership and credit are negotiated; how activities like archiving, curating, accumulating, quality control, long-term sustainability are materialized; through which kind of materialities data governance and environmental governance are imbricated);

– Power (e.g. how privilege is baked into data production, dissemination and use; which power dynamics the production, circulation and usage of data entail, reproduce and produce; how satellite data influence state diplomacy power, and how data act as relevant diplomatic assets in negotiating scientific, technological, and political agendas; how satellite data can be articulated with resistances to environmental governance, data governance and satellite technology itself, what kind of economic frictions are involved);

– Knowledge and epistemologies (e.g. how data is arranged in maps, images, measurements, and graphs, and what messages do they convey; what aspects remain unseen; how do these messages reach diverse audiences, and how does a particular dataset gain economic, scientific, aesthetic or ethical value).

This symposium is coordinated under the ERC StG CLIMASAT project. Interested scholars are invited to contribute. Please send your paper proposals (title, abstract of 150 words, name, affiliation and short biography) before 15 November 2023 to

Best wishes,
Gemma Cirac-Claveras (on behalf of the CLIMASAT team members).
Hèctor Alsina, Andrea Álvarez, Santiago Gorostiza, Grigoris Panoutsopoulos.

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