Landsat in Contexts: Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Data-to-Action Paradigm in Earth Remote Sensing

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Virginia Tech


There is a common theme at play in our talk of data generally, of digital earth data more specifically, and of environmental monitoring most specifically: more data leads to more action and, ultimately, to societal good. This data-to-action framework is troubled. Its taken-for-grantedness prevents us from attending to the processes between data and action. It also dampens our drive to investigate the contexts of that data, that action, and that envisioned societal good. In this dissertation, I deconstruct this data-to-action model in the context of Landsat, the United States' first natural resource management satellite. First, I talk about the ways in which Landsat's data and instrumentation hold conflicting narratives and values within them. Therefore, Landsat data does not automatically or easily yield action toward environmental preservation, or toward any unified societal good. Furthermore, I point out a parallel dynamic in STS, where critique is somewhat analogous to data. We want our critiques to yield action, and to guide us toward a more just technoscience. However, critiques—like data—require intentional, reconstructive interventions toward change. Here is an opportunity for a diffractive intervention: one in which we read STS and remote sensing through each other, to create space for interdisciplinary dialogue around environmental preservation. A focus on this shared goal, I argue, is imperative. At stake are issues of environmental degradation, dwindling resources, and climate change. I conclude with beginnings rather than endings: with suggestions for how we might begin to create infrastructure that attends to that forgotten space between data, critique, action, and change.



Remote Sensing, interdisciplinary, satellites, data, multispectral scanner, environmental science, military science, postphenomenology, multistabilities, diffraction