Research

Dr Thomas Lee

The Powerhouse Research Fellowship

March 2022

Project Title: Histories and futures for Australian Agricultural Technology, with a Focus on Automation and Measurement

Dr Thomas Lee
Image: Dr Thomas Lee.

My fellowship will use Powerhouse collection to identify, analyse and frame narratives about objects that have materialised cultural values and areas of concern in Australian agriculture. Primary production has a direct relationship with living organisms in the context of the environment, and agriculture has been central to Australian nation-building since colonisation. These factors make agriculture particularly interesting to a researcher like me, whose work is concerned broadly with human practices in the context of the visionary, the ecological and technological. This means understanding Australian agriculture through fields spanning design history, philosophy of technology, and the more recent subdisciplines associated with futuring, scenario planning and narrative forecasting–fields in which research into agriculture tends to remain peripheral at best.

Items in the collection associated with measurement and automation will be of particular interest, two crucial focuses in ag-tech today that will shape the future orientation of the industry. For example, soil carbon and biodiversity are both currently being translated into phenomena that can be measured at scale as part of farm business. The tools and systems designed to enable such measurements will interact with the daily lives of farmers in complex ways. The collision of measurement, technology and everyday life is, however, not new to the sector. While remote sensing might immediately recall contemporary digital technologies, any kid like me who grew up on a farm knows of the long-running importance of rain gauges. My research at the Powerhouse will bring detail and breadth to contemporary visions of Australian agriculture by linking up knowledge about the design and use of technologies across the past, present, and future.

Dr Thomas (Tom) Lee is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology Sydney. His research centres on the relationship between technology, narrative and culture. Dr Lee is particularly concerned with developing new approaches to research that integrate sociological studies of consumption, design research, philosophy and history of technology, creative writing and narrative theory.

Dr Lee is an awarded writer of long-form narrative fiction and a widely published essayist, who works across the modes of narrative non-fiction, fiction and speculative fiction. In 2018 he published his first novel, Coach Fitz, with Giramondo, which was awarded the 2019 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist and was long-listed for the 2019 Voss Literary Prize. Dr Lee has written extensively for the Sydney Review of Books, with four articles over the last four years, and nine articles for The Conversation since 2016. His second novel Object Coach is forthcoming with Upswell Publishing in November 2022.