Dissertation Abstracts

Precision in aid of pollution. How digital technologies offer a greening of agricultural productivism

Author: Jeanne Oui, jeanne.oui@gmail.com
Department: Centre Alexandre-Koyré
University: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France
Supervisor: Sara Angeli Aguiton
Year of completion: 2021
Language of dissertation: French

Keywords: agriculture , digital technologies , environment , precision farming
Areas of Research: Science and Technology , Agriculture and Food , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development


At the crossroads between environmental pollution and farm productivism lies the promise of new technologies. This is exemplified by the emergence of “precision farming” in France in the 1990s, a new farming model which relies on sensors, satellites, GPS and algorithms to reduce the ecological damage caused by productivism. This thesis studies different greening processes of French agriculture, understood as the reintegration of environmental concerns in public policies, knowledge production and professional practices. Using a Science and Technology Studies (STS) approach at the crossroads between sociology of the agricultural worlds, sociology of digital tools and environmental sociology, this work follows the production, circulation, and reuse of digital agro-environmental data through two technologies: weather stations and crop fertilization management tools. Through the lens of a multi-sited fieldwork among agricultural scientists, service companies and crop farmers, the thesis highlights that digital tools allow the subordination of greening processes to productivist objectives with three main results. First, the precision brought by digital quantification renews the spatial and temporal scientific scales and makes new agro-environmental entities visible. This contributes to push back the limits opposed by the heterogeneity of living organisms to productive standardization. At the level of farming practices on crop farms, precision tools allow to circumvent and thus weaken environmental regulation. Secondly, through their ability to trace farming practices and their circulation to administrative, scientific, professional, or commercial spheres, digital data participate in the governing of agricultural practices and strengthening of the vertical integration of producers into the agri-food chains. Finally, this study shows that the development of digital tools contributes to transform greening processes into commercial opportunities: the ecological transition of productive activities attracts companies seeking new markets for their digital tools and services.