The environmentality of digital acoustic monitoring: Emerging formations of spatial power in forests

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Simlai, Trishant 

The rise of digital acoustic monitoring is having transformative effects within forest conservation geographies and practices. By featuring divergent acoustic signals (a gunshot, a bird call) as its evidentiary basis for targeted acts of spatial intervention, digital acoustic monitoring promises to address myriad forest crises, from escalating poaching threats to biodiversity loss. More than a conservation tool, we assert that digital acoustic monitoring facilitates diverse manifestations of spatial governance that align with what Foucault (2008) termed “environmentality.” Our central objective is to analyze how digital acoustic monitoring gives rise to new spatial formations of power in forest conservation landscapes--and by extension, other acoustically monitored environments. While acknowledging the potential of digital acoustic monitoring to enhance forest conservation practices, we also find evidence that links its promise of algorithmically derived efficiency to expanded forms of scientific abstraction, militarized surveillance, and capitalist speculation that are propagating in multiple environments worldwide. By analyzing these developments as operations within digital environmentality, we offer a theoretical framework for engaging with these technologies and environments as they are now proliferating worldwide.

conservation, Digital acoustic monitoring, environmentality, forests, governance
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Political Geography
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Elsevier BV
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) ERC (866006)