Discovering the Data-driven City. Breakdown and Literacy in the Installation of the Elm Sensor Network

Darren J. Reed


Abstract: In this article, we examine the role of environmental big data in the installation of an environmental sensor in a UK city. Taking the installation of the Elm sensor as an empirical case study, we understand the installation as incurring an instance of natural breakdown which reveals the contingent workings of the device, and places it in the context of the practices of normalisation and stabilisation of the device. We use this to ask questions about the taken for granted smoothing of outputs and the continual elaboration of use and design, alongside the constructive potential for disruptive digital literacies as a site of intervention. By following, empirically, the installation of the technology, we are led to combine, and re-examine, theoretical lines of reasoning about data competences and relationships, and in turn advocate a form of ‘material politics’.

Keywords: environment; big data; digital literacy; material politics; environmental sensors.

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