data powertech dividegovernance gap
Queen’s UniversityUniversity of Waterloo
In Canada, technological innovation in the agri-food sector is outpacing research and policy to anticipate and manage impacts. Proponents claim that novel technologies will improve efficiency, environmental sustainability, and profits for farmers, while also promoting food security. Yet, critics argue that benefits will mainly accrue for corporate actors, at the expense of farmer livelihoods and the environment. This dissertation investigates the politics of novel agrifood technologies in Canada. Across four studies, I examine the conditions under which big data, digital technologies, and gene-editing can—or cannot—support transitions to more sustainable, just, and secure food systems in Canada. The first study characterizes the agricultural data governance landscape in Canada through analysis of government and corporate data policies. I find that data policies for farm management platforms go beyond their explicit purpose, asserting control over data, enforcing limits to data rights, and manufacturing legitimacy, all constitutive elements of surveillance capitalism. A second study explores how farmers and agri-food movements are responding to digitalization and data in agriculture. Based on qualitative data from workshops and conferences, I critically examine agricultural data governance challenges, principles, and ‘best practices’, and make a case for applying a data justice lens to improve agricultural data governance. A third study reports on a survey of Canadian farmers (n=1,000) designed to assess perceptions of what role digital technologies play in their ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ of agricultural futures. Survey results indicate a critical view that digital technologies in agriculture will exacerbate existing power imbalances, as well as mild optimism for the potential for environmental benefits and opportunities to mitigate labour shortages. The final study considers the use of gene editing in agriculture. Using semi-structured interviews with genomics experts in Canada, I study the risks, benefits, and governance challenges for geneedited crops, engaging with Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Genomics experts’ resistance to RRI principles and exercises of discursive closure are challenges for responsible governance of gene-edited crops. Collectively, these four studies advance theoretical frameworks from Science and Technology Studies and Critical Data Studies in agri-food contexts and offer empirical evidence to inform the governance of agri-food technologies in Canada.