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Academic Living Lab: Environmental Media & More-than-Human Infrastructures

"Environmental Media & More-than-Human Infrastructures: Making Sense of Sensor-environments" is an Academic Living Lab organized by Sebastian Scholz, Marek Jancovic & Jolanda Veldhuis in collaboration with the Institute for Societal Resilience and De Waag Society Amsterdam.


Micro-technologies of sensing have pervaded almost all areas of life. Sensors enable and sustain so-called smart cities and smart homes, monetizing public and domestic space as data capital. Sensors carried by hundreds of thousands of animals have draped the planet in a vast telemetry network that continuously monitors temperature, pollutants and other variables, deepening our epistemic dependence on non-human modes of perception and labor. Subdermal and bacterial bio-sensors have turned the interior of the body itself into a health-monitoring device. Often operating in the background, ‘anaesthetically,’ and on a micro-scale beyond the realm of human perception, such sensing technologies have become an integral part of emerging, interconnected and more-than-human ‘techno-ecologies of sensation.’ The vast amounts of sensor-generated data and new sensor-based cultural techniques like ‘tracing’, ‘tracking’ and ‘monitoring’ are now often the primary driver of biopolitical strategies and imaginaries surrounding the programmability and manageability of urban, rural and wildlife populations. Of particular interest are also new regimes of power, surveillance and cruelty enabled and aggravated by sensor media: the violent mechanisms of border control enacted through seismic and thermographic heat sensors in ‘smart border walls,’ or various health conditions caused to animals from GPS trackers. All of this can be understood as part of a larger on-going shift: environments become more and more mediated while media become increasingly environmental.


This 2-day living lab will connect citizens, artists and scholars from different disciplines with the goal of increasing ‘sensor literacy.’6 To further our understanding of what we might call sensor cultures, the lab will serve as an interactive platform for exchange, intersecting scholarly reflection with hands-on experimentation and spotlighting sensors as a principal element of ‘more-than-human infrastructures.’ With our civic partner De Waag Society, the lab will translate concrete challenges from previous smart labs into research questions and develop critical approaches to sensor tech. Day 1 will consist of a field-note workshop focused on air quality and on experimentation with both bodily and technological ways of sensing, with the aim of exploring how to counter-use, tinker with and re-appropriate sensors. Day 2 will provide a space to collectively discuss the experiences of the hands-on workshop. The main objective will be to embed the living lab in larger conceptual debates about sensor cultures and justice, and connect them to other on-going projects presented by the participating researchers.

The goal is to reconsider what it means to ‘think ecologically’ and critically interrogate sensing technology and its onto-epistemological challenges, but also to collaboratively generate constructive ways of conceptualizing sensors: Does sensing technology have any viable tactical potential for commoning? Can it foster and contribute to sustainable (media) practices? Can we reclaim sensors to build new - socially, culturally and environmentally equitable - futures? What open tools are needed to realize those futures, and how can they be developed quickly, cheaply and accessibly? How can we generate productive aesthetic approaches to and new uses of environmental media and sensing technology? We aim to publish the scholarly contributions as a peer-reviewed collected volume or special journal issue, with explicit academic reflection on the Lab and its results.

Societal relevance

Sensor-generated data - such as information about soil quality or health data - has immediate impact on policy and on everyday public and private lives. But the data and the ways it is acted upon is frequently hidden in political decision-making. Environmental data is instrumental in understanding and connecting the disparate globally unfolding environmental crises. Increasing citizens’, scholars’, artists’ and activists’ technological sensing skills can shift political support towards effective environmental policies. Sensor literacy is thus a matter of urgent societal relevance, and a Living Lab is the ideal format in which to explore small-scale, local and functional solutions to these global challenges. By strengthening their knowledge, gathering data and taking ownership of it, citizens can better connect to their environment and hold a stronger position in the conversation with governments and corporations.

Marek Jancovic is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His current research is centered around the materialities of the moving image, film preservation practices, media and the environment, and format studies. He ist the author of A Media Epigraphy of Video Compression: Reading Traces of Decay (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming) and co-editor of Format Matters: Standards, Practices, and Politics in Media Cultures (Meson Press, 2020).

Sebastian Scholz is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His main areas of interest are the genealogies and onto-epistemologies of the visible; intersections of media and science & technology studies; media aesthetics and environmental media. He is currently conducting research on sensor-media, techno-ecologies and more-than-human media infrastructures. Scholz is author of Epistemische Bilder. Zur Medialen Onto-Epistemologie der Sichtbarmachung (Bielefeld, transcript: Edition Medienwissenschaft, 2021; OA:

Jolanda Veldhuis is an Assiociate Professor in Communication Science (Social Marketing and Media Psychology) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. With a background in Biomedical Sciences as well as Social Sciences, her research takes a highly interdisciplinary perspective. Her current research projects focus on social marketing of prosocial behavior (strategies for environmental education, such as gamification); media processing in a social context (combined media-peer-influences on body image/well-being); risk/health communication applications; as well as investigating the role of the social context and individual and diversity aspects herein.