Smart Futures

Smart Futures? Transforming human-nature relations through mobile information services

Large-scale land use change, particularly in relation to programmes striving for agricultural intensification, often comes along with substantial changes in the organisation of farming practices. Soils only recently converted into agricultural land, newly founded cooperatives, outgrower schemes, a different selection of crops, novel irrigation systems and emerging commodity chains severely alter the setting for small-scale farmers and bring with it new uncertainties, generally amplified by increasing climatic variability, fluctuating market prices and rather unstable infrastructural and political contexts. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), especially in the form of the ever more ubiquitous mobile phone, are usually perceived as actual or at least potential tools to help farmers tackle these uncertainties. By providing access to knowledge about future events and developments (weather forecasts, price developments etc.) they are meant to both increase agricultural productivity and make it more sustainable. The project therefore takes the debate on “Information and Communication Technologies for Development” (ICT4D) as a point of departure to study how future-related knowledge becomes mediated through mobile information services (m-services) and how such m-services, in turn, form a decisive part of future-making in rural Africa today.

Focusing on the ways in which m-services in the agricultural sector are generated and inform farming practices, the project addresses three interrelated questions:

  •  What visions of (agricultural) development for rural Africa are mediated through mobile information services?
  • How do mobile services, by linking scientists, development actors and users, translate probabilistic futures into risk-mitigating instructions?
  • How do mobile services, by providing a specific kind of knowledge and guidance, transform human-nature relationships, i.e. the way users perceive and act on nature?

By doing so, the project contributes to a more thorough understanding of the ways in which the digital mediation of future-oriented knowledge leads to socio-ecological transformation, for example, by linking previously experience-based forms of knowing and acting with more calculative and probabilistic approaches to the future.

Principal Investigators and Team Members
Prof. Dr. Julia Verne
Team: Julian Rochlitz, Astrid Matejcek, Everjoy Chiimba, Rupert Neuhöfer.
For more details see: