(Re)imagining the ibis: Multispecies future(s), smart urban governance, and the digital environmental humanities

Over the past decade, environmental science and governance have undergone a ‘big data’ and ‘smart technology’ turn. Environmental sensing and monitoring technologies now gather an unprecedented amount of data about the Earth, including its biodiverse species. While these technologies are deployed for the purpose of preservation and conservation, they have been criticised for their tendency to reduce more-than-human life to data and to exert forms of algorithmic control over that data in a way that diminishes multispecies justice. In this paper, we argue for the importance of bringing digital environmental humanities (DEH) perspectives to bear on environmental governance—particularly in thinking through and planning for multispecies future(s) in an increasingly urbanised world. We focus on smart urban governance models and explore the role of biodiversity databases in environmental governance. Taking the Australian White Ibis as the protagonist of this chapter, we reveal how representation of the White Ibis in two biodiversity databases—namely the Atlas of Living Australia and Big City Birds—reinforces human-centred environmental governance. By engaging with the data-driven portrayal of ibises, the paper mobilises the more-than-human turn to propose a future direction for biodiversity databases that acknowledges nonhuman agency.

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This book chapter will be published in the Routledge Handbook of the Digital Environmental Humanities. This work was written in collaboration with Professor Marcus Foth and Professor Peta Mitchell.