‘Precision Farming or Not’ by Roger Stratton


A review of my book “The Precision Farming Revolution” (2020, Palgrave Macmillian) by a local, semi-retired farmer and farm owner, Roger Stratton.

I was four years old when we had our first tractor in 1936. It was a Standard Fordson on steel wheels with spade lugs on the rear wheels. It started on petrol and, when running, turned onto tractor vaporising oil. The ignition system was by Magneto. You started it with a crank handle – beware broken wrist! Our machinery was all for horses. No problem – insert an “iron horse” in the shafts with a tow bar on it for the tractor end. When used with a horse, just remove the iron one! Some way from “Precision Farming”!

Addicott (2019) tells us on that, globally, 84% of farms are less than 2 hectares (approx. 5 acres), manage only 12% of all agricultural land and produce more than 80% of world food in terms of value (p. 41).

The names of contributing farmers have been changed but he has used verbatim comments, which has improved readability, as there are a lot of references to others’ writing, which needed some leavening by pithy comments.

The farms included in this sample were mostly medium sized (50-250 hectares) and farmers found the capital cost of using precision farming equipment expensive enough to cause hesitation in using it. Someone has to finance the satellites and receiving equipment. None of the farmers could provide evidence of making more money by using the system, but most thought really large farms probably could; farms of 1000 to 2500 hectares.

While reading this book I was shown an article from The Guardian newspaper, 8th January 2020. Headlined “Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming and save the planet”, it was written by George Monbiot. He had recently gone to Helsinki to see soil bacteria being grown in water tanks to make a sludge, from which one can make most food. It is claimed that meat, milk, eggs, fish etc can be grown artificially in this manner at a tenth of the cost of producing the above through animals eating grass, grain etc. George Monbiot claims that using bacteria to produce food needs no land and can be done in factories with a good water supply, the energy needed coming from hydrogen extracted from water, possibly using solar panels.

I leave the reader to predict the future: satellites and precision or bacteria using little or no land and less water. Or possibly a bit of each.


Addicott JE. (2019) The Precision Farming Revolution: global drivers of local agricultural methods, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

OUT NOW: The Precision Farming Revolution: Global Drivers of Local Agricultural Methods (Book)

I very proudly announce that my debut book, which is entitled: The Precision Farming Revolution: Global Drivers of Local Agricultural Methods, is now available for download as a eBook via the Palgrave Macmillain and Springer websites.

This was based upon four years of research at The Department of Sociology: The University of Cambridge within one of Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall farming communities near Bath, UK. You will receive a 20% discount if you order the book through me (email me directly for more information).

Pre-orders are also being taken via Google Books, Good Reads and Amazon for the hardback version which is being released on: 13/02/19.

Here are some of the reviews the book has received already:

“This book connects debates and issues around precision farming technologies to show that farmers’ engagement with these technologies is influenced, but not exclusively determined, by economic and food-productivity factors. As a social scientist, James Addicott makes a clear case for factors other than just ‘efficiency’ playing a role in the adoption of precision farming. It is a must read for all students in the food and agriculture sector who seek to gain a balanced, realist understanding of how the global Precision Farming Revolution shapes and is shaped by the active agency of local farmers.” (Gert Spaargaren, Wageningen University, The Netherlands)

“The gains claimed by the promoters of precision farming are very considerable. Satellite farming companies argue that their observations enable exact and profitable decisions to be made about the application of chemicals. But, as James Addicott’s research suggests, this form of ‘scientific farming’ is very problematic. Control over satellite farming has dispensed with the farmers’ more local and ‘tacit’ understandings. Knowledge of a more general and universal kind is made to prevail. Meanwhile, farmers are faced by the competing technologies offered by precision farming corporations. As a result, farmers struggle with a range of incompatible products. This book shows that power and influence is being transferred away from the farmer and towards the big, unaccountable, transnational ‘precision farming’ offered by corporations.” (Peter Dickens, University of Cambridge, UK)

Keep up to date with developments on the book via this blogsite or my website: http://jeaddicott.com .


Precision farming systems were marketed to local farmers on their ability to increase yields whilst reducing inputs and business overheads to ‘save planet earth’ and ‘feed the world’. But could autonomous, satellite-driven tractors and farm equipment help local family farmers achieve these goals? Critics contend that self-steering and self-regulating farm equipment incorporated throughputs of commoditised data which devalued the time-honoured knowledge accumulated by farming families; autonomous control systems reduced farmers to the role of nodes or conduits within control systems dominated by transnational firms. This book is the result of four years of research conducted at the University of Cambridge, and contains ethnographic research carried out in the West Country of England within a cooperative of farmers in rural village communities. It reveals the reasons why local farmers were investing into autonomous systems and traces any outcomes of adoption. It describes the driving forces in the fourth industrial revolution in the lead up to Britain’s Brexit referendum, detailing local and global drivers in revolution from the launch of Sputnik 1, world population growth metrics, climatic and ecological crises, profit-driven farming and government grants. Contrary to the claims that precision farming system came with calculable cost benefits that would stand to profit local farmers around the world, whilst at the same time making industrial farming ‘green’, the book analyses precision farming systems as one of a number of cultural methods to be found within Britain’s multi-agricultural and countryside landscape. Intelligence, ideas and thinking, new organisational powers and capacities, were precisely what precision farming offered farmers and firms. The power dynamics of industrial agriculture were reorganised and this book will offer readers an understanding of how and why.

Table of Contents:
1. The Precision Farming Revolution
2. Global drivers
3. Economic drivers
4. Cultural methods
5. Society and Nature
6. Farming futures

eBook ISBN: 978-981-13-9686-1
DOI: 10.1007/978-981-13-9686-1

Food intensification and world food shortages: World Food Day 2015

Constantly politicians, NGOs, agrichemical and agriequipment companies are urging farmers in England to sustainably intensify food production by investing into new technologies. The reason for food intensifications, they claim, is to meet growing demands caused by increasing future global populations. All eyes are set on 2030/50 as goalposts. Good reasons but what about the world today?

Ironically, while El Niño has been credited for good weather in the UK there are growing fears that the same weather fluxes could lead to famine in ‘developing’ countries.

This summer whilst research precision agriculture in rural England all the farmers I spoke to reported phenomenal, ‘bumper harvests’ but devastatingly poor market prices. There was one particular dairy farmer who had to close down his family’s 100-year-old milk business since prices had hit rock bottom. The same is also true for wheat, sugar and barley. These commodities are being sold by farmers in the UK under the cost of production. But the farmers are still being told to intensify production.

If the grain stores of the UK and Europe are becoming clogged up with surplus food then  redistribute the excess to the people in countries that need more food. Emptying the agri-food industries of excess stock would keep the system of production and consumption in circulation and commodity prices bubbling. Furthermore there would be more money in circulation for farmers to invest in agri-tech equipment such as precision farming technologies.

If our global goals and challenges are to feed global populations then why must they be future generations? What does it say about the global order we are living in, if millions of people are going hungry while the grain stores of wealthier nations are literally bursting at the seems. It says one thing, that sustainable intensification of agriculture will be unsustainable while food surpluses drive commodity prices down and farmers out of business. The redistribution of food surpluses is one means of getting the circulation of capital moving again. Lets get charitable, globally.


#Ecomodernism, EMT, neo-Marxism; Some Key Problems with the Current Informatic “World View”

Not long after NATO’s declaration of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals a group calling themselves “ecopragmatists and ecomodernists” uploaded their future world vision and manifesto to the Internet.

What is noticeable from the outset of the manifesto is the absence of any reference to a European and mainly Dutch school of thought commonly know as ecological modernisation theory (“EMT” abbreviated). Key EMT thinkers would include Joseph Huber, Arthur P. Mol, Martin Jänicke or Gert Spaargaren and many others (see Wikipedia here). The integration of science and technologies and ecological systems and the general futurological worldview presented by the ecomodernists (“Eco-Mods”) is somewhat similar in places to EMT school of thought but differs drastically in others.

The Guardian blogger George Monbiot’s recent criticism of the ecomodernists’ manifesto really hits the mark. The public debate raises some of the main arguments within environmental sociology that exists between EMT theorists and neo-Marxists.The main point Monbiot picks the eco-mods up on, and the point that needs criticizing, is that: ‘The ecomodernists talk of “unproductive, small-scale farming” and claim that “urbanisation and agricultural intensification go hand in hand.” In other words, they appear to believe that smallholders, working the land in large numbers, produce lower yields than large farms.’ He corrects this mistake by stating: ‘But since Amartya Sen’s groundbreaking work in 1962, hundreds of papers in the academic literature demonstrate the opposite: that there is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the crops they produce. The smaller they are, on average, the greater the yield per hectare’.

While I remain somewhat reserved in using global stats to counteract global stats, to back Monbiot’s argument it should be pointed out that 80% of the world’s food comes from small, family farms. Of which 72% are under the size of one hectare (UN/FAO, 2014). Of course, smaller-scale farms are also part of the fabric of rural societies and cultures that exist in England and around the world too.

The current predicament that the English farmers that I am researching face is that they are continuously being told to intensify food production by groups like the Eco-Mods because of a “growing world population”. Currently within global markets the supply of milk, wheat and barley is in a state of overproduction and commodity prices reflect this since they are hitting rock bottom – £98 a ton for wheat which reflects market prices of the 1980s, a farmer told me the other day. Why then are farmers in England being pressured to produce more and more, invest into more chemicals, communication technologies, solutions or machines, when supply is higher than demands and growing more will only further push prices down? One can only begin to speculate that the push to intensify is to boost GDP or net-income by getting farmers to invest into more technologies, more chemicals, more machinery and to boost the growth of what is being called the “Agri-Tech” sector whilst spurring on the agri-food industry. This push for rapid-intensification is mainly coming from the agri-equipment and agrichemical companies, pro-modernisation political parties and pressure groups.

The more authentic EMT school offers more alternative, well-considered and potentially practical solutions than the Eco-Mods, (see for example: Mol, 2003; Mol, 2008). I would suggest this is the case since there has been a ‘fierce’ academic debate raging between the EMT theorists and ecological, neo-Marxists (and de-industrialists, post-modernists or eco-feminists). EMT’s general ‘optimism’ towards modern, environmental reform has been thoroughly and rigorously questioned, probed and debated – continuing without conclusion.

To summarise the debate in brief, the neo-Marxist’s main criticism is that EMT theorists’ social and ecological optimism or utopian idealism is being used as an ideological veil to mask issues of inequality and exploitation that are not being addressed in already-developed nations. The concept of ecological modernisation simply develops a rather handy, academically legitimised, marketing tool for a multi-billion dollar, global industry and home of the multinational seed and agrochemical companies (of which there are only six), the agri-equipment multinationals and boost GDP in developed nations. Furthermore, this line of thinking simply backs up the political parties that support a mainly American, neo-liberal agenda that seeks to expand and develop a system that not only further exploit natural environments but human beings too (see for example: Dickens, 2004).

While the academic criticisms of EMT are harsh, there are that there are some progressive gems to be found with EMT theory, such as Joseph Huber’s social and economic theory of TEIs which targets accumulation and processing of the raw materials that are used product life cycles (products such as food) in global, industrial, modern, capitalist societies and cultures (2004). These thoroughly thought-out and more intricate EMT ideas have not made it into the Eco-Mods’ rather exclusive manifesto, which offers lots of unreferenced global statistics, without citation to this long trail of academic research by the EMT theorists. This certainly makes the eco-mod’s manifesto look like an incredibly dumbed-down reiteration of a more complicated and well-researched EMT position.

Narrow-minded, Informatic Worldviews

‘Beware of simple solutions to complex problems’, Monbiot states. Although the Internet, transport networks and information communication technology shrinks space and time in such a way as the world, or “Spaceship Earth”, has become a “global village”, my concern is that it is leading to an incredibly narrow-minded worldview. We can click and see Samoa, for example. Infographics do the neat trick of condensing lengthy global reports into a sharable JEPGs. but this also makes sumerisable the complex dynamics that deliver people their food. This oversimplified worldview that technologies such as Google Earth offers might develop incredibly over-simplified, monolithic understanding of “The World”. Thereby encouraging certain cultural insensitivities and ethnocentric value judgments; cultivating morals and ethics that promote and unwarranted use of the word “We” and the development of ideal-type “World Goals” in economic and political policy designs.

As history has taught us, generalised goalposts tend to drastically overlook vast complexities of humans populations, human cultures, at national, regional or local levels – I agree with Monbiot. Marx and Engels’ theories of society and nature contributed to the starvation of 40-60 million people in China under Mao’s uncritical deployment of Marx’s theory of social and agricultural advancement (Dikötter, 2011). Any anthropologists, ethnographer, social scientist critically engaged in local-level research will tell you from local interactions that general, broad theories are quickly blown apart by the levels of complexity experienced first hand within local human populations. These needn’t be ethnographic observations of indigenous communities or “developing” nations. It could also be observations of peripheral, rural communities or impoverished urban communities held within these so called “developed” nations. These more local observations might well include issues of patriarchy, capital-labour relations, social power relations, police brutality, as well as more general and ineffable feelings of discontentment, ambiguity, frustration or confusion that seem to stem from modern globalisation, global market volatilities, mass production and mass consumption processes, and a growing metabolic rift between society and nature.

Whilst entering into global debates you get dragged into global debates, so I will conclude with a local insight. The other day I went to a farmers market in England on a village green. Trailers from the 1950s and tools from the 1930s were being bought and sold there with £10 or £20 paper notes. Not as ornaments or collectors items but to be put back into agricultural production systems that continue exist in “Modern England”. While people throw around ideas of “modernisation”, the problem is that people have to pay for these new technologies and if they money is not around while commodity prices are down. Smaller-scale farmers  are not only unable to purchase these technologies but the larger farmers on global markets who can afford them are benefiting more from intensification, thereby pushing small-scale further into smaller-scale production, and further into the depths of rural poverty. These smaller farmers, farm workers, farming sons and daughters or downshifting ecologists or “eco-freaks”, thrive on the countryside land and rural culture. It is entirely unfair that they should be forced to ecologically modernise or perish for the sake of unwarranted and futurological visions of progress, modernisation and development.


Dickens P. (2004) Society & Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dikötter F. (2011) Mao’s Great Famine, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Pls.
Huber J. ( 2004) New Technologies and Environmental Innovation, Cheltnhman: Edware Elgar Publishing Limited.
Mol APJ. (2003) Globalization and Enviromental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy, London: The MIT Press.
Mol APj. (2008) Environmental Reform in the Information Age: The Contours of Informational Governance, New York: Cambridge University Press.
UN/FAO. (2014) Family Farmers: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth. http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Samsara, The Culture Industry and The Enlightenment as Mass-Deception

Lots of undergraduate students struggle with the idea of The Culture Industry. For many students these days the Frankfurt School’s theory has lost its relevance. Possibly, during the build up to the First and Second World War, when the Power Elites used mass media much more as a propaganda tool to instigate world wars, the notion of the culture industry as a critique of may have been liberating to a few. These days Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of modernity and theory of the Enlightenment as mass deception is just out of date, elitist and rather depressing to read. It depicts humans as zombie-like, morons who are systematically oppressed by a massive social mechanism; an “Iron Cage” as Weber called it, or a “unicity” as Lyotard termed it; “bio-power” to Foucault. Subsequently, The Culture Industry theory lacks agency to such an extent it reads somewhat like the contemporary conspiracy theory. We humans possess agency, the idea of The Culture Industry is too structurally-deterministic.


But the students I have spoken to during supervisions generally empathise with the idea of the culture industry; there seems to be “something there”. They are not entirely sure what, but the ideas hold to an extent. But their refusal to accept these out-of-date arguments seems to rest on the liberation that large cities, the Internet or communication technologies delivers; we live in a new world now, one of communication, knowledge sharing, imagined communities, hope and change.

I entirely sympathise with their opinions. I studied Media and Culture for my undergraduate and then Social and Cultural Theory for my masters. I tended to reject totalitarian theories of social structure for more nuanced theories of social power dynamics. My opinion has been changed after studying industrial agriculture and industrial food production systems.

The vast majority of the students tend to focus on the overwhelming complexities of cultures, sub-cultures, resistance groups and so on. They largely reject the notion of monoculture, global-culture or mass-culture. The content of their research is generally content analysis: the culture we consume on television or through fashion magazines. Focusing on the immaterial aspects of culture (ideas, language, semantics, fashions, trends, ideologies, etc.) and how they merge, influence, permeate, hybridise or intertwine. This is all fine, great indeed, but does it really constitute an adequate or even holistic understanding of culture?

The problem that I find, and I have been guilty of this in the past, is there is very little emphasis on the material or physical tools, machines, automobiles, transportation networks, communication networks (telegraph poles, fiber optic cables, wireless routers, servers, etc.) that deliver the media content or cultural content to us. We are too fixated on the celebrities, fashion models, personas or branding to accept the television sets, satellite networks or mobile handsets that deliver us the imagery as cultural artifacts. “Culture” or the cultural forms that are often analysed are songs, literature, artworks, poems, fashion items, hairstyles, etc. rather than chemistry, physics, technologies, mechanisms, wood, plastics, metals, and so on that mediate or enable this cultural content. In Marxist terms, the emphasis is generally on the culture or systems of ideas, or ideologies of a societies rather than the material, economic “base-structure”, which is by-and-large massively overlooked. We are only seeing one side of the coin.

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Samsara reemphasizes the point about modernity, the Enlightenment and mass culture that it is so easy to overlook or take for granted in our everyday lives. What gives us modern people or “post-modern” and “post-industrial” people this sense of freedom, autonomy, liberty, independence or agencies are the material, objects or things of culture that surround us; such as underground sewage systems, taps, sinks and plumbing, radiators, light bulbs, cars, trains, busses, washing machines, lawn mowers, computers and mobile phones etc. With all of these cultural artifacts in place, we have less physical work to do in our everyday lives. Post-modern people don’t have to walk to get water, wash dishes and cutlery, prepare meat and cook with our bare hands, move geographic locations to communicate with other people, and so on.

Different machines or specialist sectors of society do much of our “life work” for us that we no longer recognise these social systems or material objects as relevant to our lives. We look back at the metanarratives of history as constructed events and the idea of Truth as a falsehood or mythology. We do not consider that the chemicals we put in our hair or in our mouths everyday, or the perfume or cologne we spray on our bodies, or the chemical preservatives in our food or milk as the end products of thousands of years of scientific endeavor. Science has always been socially constructed, as too is the truth that it has aimed for. The truth is scientific discovery continues on, as to do the rational and systematic cultures it encourages, and we are “privileged” enough to benefit from thousands of years of backlogged scientific disputes, processes and knowledges.

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What gives many of us postmodern people the right to argue that we have agencies or that we are free-people, are the material, industrial, mechanised, and now computer automated processes that take place beyond our local horizons. It will always fright, shock and disgust us to see chicks being liquidized, cows being slaughtered or pigs being caged in pens for their entire lives, because the advanced division of labour or specialization of work roles in our contemporary society has become so advanced that we have become preoccupied by the end products; what appears on the shelves or on our screens; the Phantasmagoria; the social spectacle. We never see the cotton fields where the materials are grown to make the clothes we wear; we rarely visit the sewage works where our bodily wastes are disposed of or recycled; certainly many of us would be put off eating processed meat if we were to see the materials used to compose these “crafted” foods.

We can celebrate the pluralism and diversity of our postmodern and multicultural societies and much as we like, however, at another level of postmodern societies we neglect that there are very standardised, uniform and systematic processes in place that work twenty-four hours around the clock to deliver us with the food we consume and convert into energy, the materials that construct our city landscapes, the clothes that we use to keep us warm or attract attention. Samsara reminds us that The Enlightenment movement is as strong as ever, and The Culture Industry (singular) is still in tact, and that we also need to maintain some level of critical awareness of these industrial processes that give us this sense of entitlement to liberty and autonomy. We would be deceived to think otherwise.

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More importantly, as we watch chickens being systematically herded up by machines; mono-crops being grown on “auto-farms”, production lines of workers packaging the food we will eventually eat, we should also remember how people are also systematically herded, processed, commoditised, packaged and put into cubicles. “The World Factory” a group of nine Chinese sociologists called it in an open letter about labour exploitation and worker suicides. That is the challenge if we are to understand modernity fully. And, any right-minded and critically engaged student will react against these claims. Arguing for complexity, diversity, choices, possibilities, changes and potentials to confirm their sense of agency, to confirm their own sense of power, control and self.

Maybe its too depressing to research these particular dimensions of postmodern life? The Culture Industry is depressing; Samsara is a depressing film to watch. While medics have to deal with cancer victims, firefighters have to pull mangled bodies from wreckages, or Chinese workers have to package meat on conveyor belts; why should we consider that sociology or culture studies (the humanities) should neglect the more depressing flip side of postmodern lifestyles?

Networked Call Center

Precision Farming: Agri-Culture, Cybernetics and Civilisation

PhD Research Proposal
by James Addicott

Massey Furgeson Fuse

British history has seen several agricultural revolutions, such as the switch from hunter gathering, to land farming during the Bronze Age, or the 16-18C transfers from open field system to a system of enclosure. Along with various ideological and marketing forces; a push for increased profits; and in response to the threat of world population growth and the demand for a 70 percent increase in food production by the year 2050[1], the British farming industry is currently undergoing a new agricultural-revolution; its own emersion into ‘geo-space’ (understood here as ‘cyber-space’) as farmers increase the usage of I.C.T. (information-communication technology) and turn to satellite-guided ‘precision farming’[2]. This research project is concerned with what Jean-François Lyotard (1986) termed ‘The Computerisation of Society’ and the degrees to which human routine is being controlled or automated by cybernetics.

By 2030, the global economy could double in size, and India and China will swell to represent around 40% of global middle-class consumption, up from less than 10% in 2010. This will significantly alter the composition of global diets.
Farming First.org: By 2030, the global economy could double in size, and India and China will swell to represent around 40% of global middle-class consumption, up from less than 10% in 2010. This will significantly alter the composition of global diets.

Precision farming means satellites can now scan the surface of the globe capturing a range of information such as soil moisture levels, soil texture, levels of organic matter and photosynthesis (or leaf greenness). Farmers can process this data with a range of software applications and other data sets to help optimise seed distribution rates and fertiliser application levels in computer-enhanced farming equipment (tractors, fertiliser spreaders, drills, etc.). This information helps farmers to decrease expenditure and increase yield, output and to maximise profits. Furthermore, satellites capture and transmit geometric information that can enable farmers to drive their tractors within a ‘geo-refferenced’ space to a centimetre degree of accuracy to avoid wastage and optimise output. In such a system humans and nonhumans (e.g. soil, stones, crops, pests, trees, hedgerows, hills, technologies and clouds) can be understood or optimised in ways that increase overall productivity. Paul Conway, points out, ‘there can be little doubt that the transformation of ecosystem to agro-ecosystem produces well-defined systems of cybernetic nature’ (Conway in Bawden, 1991: 2370). How might the social sciences respond to this?

Cybernetics-Norbert-WienerSince its inception in World War II, cybernetics has both concerned and delighted the social sciences, polarising theorists into two camps that can be labelled as “cyber-optimists” and “cyber-sceptics”. When the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, discovered that cybernetic technologies blurred the former divisions that separated humans from their nonhuman environments, while governing human behavior by way of feedback and regulation, he began to worry about technological control, automation and domination. Peter Galison (1994) offers the reminder that: ‘Wiener repeatedly stressed the power of cybernetics to save, enslave, or destroy humanity’ (254). Lyotard stated that cybernetics: ‘has no way to correct in the course of it’s functioning’ and the ultimate goal of cybernetics revolves around ‘maximizing its own performance’, thus: ‘the system seems to be a vanguard machine dragging humanity after it’ (1986: 16). The real-time simulation in precision farming offers a working example of Jean Baudrillard’s “hyper-reality” since the fourth order of simulacra was ‘founded on information, the model, the cybernetic game’ with the ‘aim of total control’ (1994: 121). As cybernetically-inspired theories and technologies are deployed in genetics, computer-simulations, architecture, business and economics, agriculture and the social sciences itself, these concerns suggest that ethically-engaged research needs to be undertaken to understand how people are being affected by these communication-theories and technologies.


However, cyber-optimists would reject some of the concerns detailed above. Bruno Latour claims that socio-technologies have always had agency and have always possessed a ‘delegated human character’ (1998: 300). Furthermore, he argues that networking technologies are simply exposing the ‘nature-culture’ networks that pre-existed the Modern Constitution’s attempts to purify society, politics and culture from natural networks (see Latour, 1993). Likewise, N. Katherine Hayles (1999) dismisses Wiener’s worries as the outdated ideas of liberal humanism and possessive individualism[3] and argues that because cybernetic feedback-loops ‘flow not only within the subject but also between the subject and the environment’ then cybernetics will help posthumans to ‘fashion images of (themselves) that accurately reflect the complex interplays that ultimately make the entire world one system’ (1999: 84-85; 290). Donna Haraway also supports the cybernetic breakdown of outdated ‘dualisms’ that ‘have been persistent in Western traditions’ and ‘systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, (and) animals’ put in place by ‘White Capitalist Patriarchy’ (Haraway, 1991: 117; 197). From this perspective, not only is the shift towards cybernetics helping to sustain nature-culture networks but cyber-culture may also allow humanity to go beyond the domination and dogmatism synonymous with modernity.

cyborg-love-addicottIn response to all of this, the social sciences have a duty to conduct a more ethically engaged investigation into the relationship between cybernetic technologies and human beings for several reasons. Firstly, to understand how societies are being transformed into “nature-culture hybrids” “posthumans”, “trans-humans”, “Humanity 2.0”[4] or “cyborgs” – if indeed this is the case. Secondly, by mapping the associative forces, or as Latour says: ‘the work, and the movement, and the flow, and the changes’ (2005: 143), we can begin to understand how nature-culture networks are either being exposed, or, how capital, nature, landscapes, technology and humans are becoming entwined, “entangled” (Callon, 1998), “mixed up” (Latour, 1998) or “mangled” (Pickering, 1995); causing debates within the social sciences such as “human exemptionalism” (see Murdoch, 2001). It will help us in defining “natural” and “artificial” nature-culture networks. More importantly, in response to Wiener’s utopian, dystopian or apocalyptic dreams and nightmares, the agricultural sector can be used as a site whereby an ethical model concerned with human and cybernetic interaction can be researched and conceived. To address these issues, the substantive question this project will address is: to what degree are cybernetic systems beginning to automate society? Beyond this overarching concern, I will address the following questions: why and how are farmers being driven towards precision farming? And, how do cybernetic technologies affect the role of the human agent(s)?

Researching this agricultural shift into cyber-space will be essential for contemporary and future generation’s understanding the role human beings play in cybernetically automated spaces or environments in which ‘distributed cognition’ provides us with a systems ‘whose total cognitive capacity exceeds our individual knowledge’ (Hayles: 1999: 290). Furthermore, if society becomes increasingly automated by such technologies, this information and the theories it develops will help to determine a critical and un-systematised stance towards information-communication society.

Note: (19th of November, 2013):

This is the working title of my current PhD research at the Department of Sociology, the University of Cambridge and supervised by Peter Dickens. It represents “work in progress”, literally. Research is currently underway but hopefully this brief synopsis will give you guys (the online blogging community) some idea of the issues that my research is aiming to address. And, admittedly, these are theoretical concerns and at times rather “abstract” or “arbitrary”. (Good!) My research will aim to “ground” the theory and learn from my research “fields” – “ground” and “fields” offering me two nice words to use in relation to researching farming!

I will be posting a much more reader-friendly version of this proposal at some point. Because this is an interdisciplinary research project it is easy to get bogged down with jargon and subject-specific languages taken from astrophysics, computer sciences, social and cultural theory, or agriculture itself. Keep up to date with my page or follow me on twitter for an announcement of when this will be posted.

Keep up to date with my research by following my blog or on twitter:

[1] In The World Bank’s  (2011) report entitled ICT in Agriculture claims that: ‘The growing global population, expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, has heightened the demand for food and placed pres- sure on already-fragile resources. Feeding that population will require a 70 percent increase in food production’. ICT, that ‘includes anything ranging from radio to satellite imagery to mobile phones or electronic money transfers’, or, ‘satellite imagery to mobile phones or electronic money transfers’, etc. is optimistically embraced as a potential ‘solution’ that could ‘improve agriculture in developing countries specifically’ (2011: 3).

[2] Farm machinery manufacturer John Deere states about their FarmSight wireless system that in the future, ‘FarmSight will connect equipment, owners, operators, dealers and agricultural consultants in order to enhance productivity and increase efficiency, by sharing information as well as sustainable practices to help reduce overall input costs’ (2011a). John Deere’s i-Solutions packages offered farmers the ability to purchase the rights to unscramble American satellite networks. Their website explains that, ‘Real Time Kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation is a technique used in land survey and in automatic guidance (agriculture) based on the use of carrier phase measurements of the GPS signals where a single reference station provides the real-time corrections to a rover vehicle (tractor, combine etc.) to a level of accuracy down to a centimeter’ (2011b).

[3] Liberal humanism can be traced back to Aristotle’s ethics, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke’s social contract theory, and of more recent, C.B. Macpherson’s economic theory of “possessive individualism”. In essence, liberal humanism declares that: ‘what makes a man human is freedom from dependence on the wills of others’, and possessive individualism presents the idea that the individual is ‘essentially the proprietor of his own person and capacities, for which he owes nothing to society’ (1962: 263). These are the ideas of the Modern Constitution that Latour also rejects by stating We Have Never Been Modern.

[4] Fuller, S. (2011) Humanity 2.0: What it means to be Human Past, Present, and Future. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian.


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