Canada Research Chair in Science and Society

About the Canada Research Chair

Traditional economic sectors like agriculture and mining are still crucial to Canada’s economic and social fabric—and they are undergoing a digital revolution.

The Canadian government is confident that innovations like the use of big data will drive economic growth and social well-being. But if the digitization of agriculture and mining is not governed properly, it could amplify economic divides in regions—making it as polarizing as it is empowering.

Democratic governments have a mandate to govern innovation-led societal shifts responsibly. But social scientists have not systematically determined the effects of digitization in traditional sectors like agriculture and mining, making responsible governance an impossible task.

The Chair

Kelly Bronson

The Canada Research Chair in Science and Society is Kelly Bronson, Core Member of the ISSP and Assistant Professor at the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, uOttawa.

Dr. Kelly Bronson is focusing her research at the nexus of science, society and policy. She and her research team aim to empower those who design and govern innovations in data and machine intelligence so they can anticipate a variety of societal needs and concerns and incorporate them into their work. They plan to do this through in-depth qualitative engagements with designers and end-users as well as participatory and open innovation and decision processes that bring these social groups together. Ultimately, Bronson’s research aims to create regenerative and just food and energy systems in Canada.

The Projects

Big Data and AI in Agriculture

About the Project

Farming is said to be undergoing a digital “revolution.” For example, new tractors are now fitted with sensors that passively collect data on the farm, on farm equipment and even farmers. This data is aggregated with those from other farms into “big data” which are used in machine learning to advise farmers on when to spray, seed and harvest.

I am part of a small but growing international group of critical social scientists who study the societal impacts of digitization in agriculture. My work focuses on the potential that big data and the digital tools for collecting, aggregating and analyzing them is poised to reproduce long-standing and inequitable relationships of power in the agri-food sector. I have several projects on this area and the goal for all of them is to leverage rural community-grounded methods (e.g. participatory technology assessments, focus groups, field observation) that take me across Canada in order to shed light on farmer engagement with emergent technologies, specifically engagement among small and diverse farmers. I ask questions like: What types of big data are currently in use by farmers, governments and corporations in the agri-food system? What kinds of knowledge about food, farming and farmers are big data helping to shape? What power relationships are generated, reinforced or disrupted by the application of big data in the agri-food sector? A secondary goal is to bring farmer feedback directly to federal policy-makers.

Publications

Speaking Engagements

  • Content to come
Justice and Recognition in Impact Assessment

About the Project

On 17 October 2013, a conflict over shale gas development came to a head when members of the Elsipogtog First Nation (a Mi’kmaq people) and U.S.-based SWN Corporation confronted each other at the town of Rexton, New Brunswick. Those on the ground in this high-profile conflict argue that it was as much about historical injustice and unsettled land claims as it is about resource development.

My research projects on the topic of impact assessment focus on injustice, recognizing that it is at the centre of environmental governance disputes and the societal disruptions raised by development. Moreover, my research is premised on a justice framework that has three dimensions—procedural, distributional, and cultural—and it addresses a gap in environmental governance scholarship and practice around the third dimension of justice. My ultimate objective is practical: to outline what a justice-oriented approach to meaningful participation in large industrial development would entail for impact review processes in Canada and around the world.

Publications

Speaking Engagements

  • Content to come
Algorithmic Impact Assessment

About the Project

I have several collaborative team projects looking at algorithms in-the-making (their design and designers) and in-the-wild (how they get used, by whom, and for what purposes). My work in this area attempts to forward a truly interdisciplinary approach that combines law, ethics and sociology to algorithmic assessment. Indeed, these projects are not just particular assessments of individual algorithms but they all attempt to advance the normative position that technologies cannot just be considered in relation to whether they comply with the law, but also how they fit with broader social values and justice.

Publications

Speaking Engagements

  • Content to come

Canada Research Chair News

January 2020

October 2019

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