Across diverse European environments, one can readily observe that the ways in which people engage with their surroundings have changed dramatically. In the mountains and in the forests, along riverbanks and seacoasts, it is hard to find anyone who is not tapping on their smartphones, flying drones, using wearable cameras, or other digital gadgets to “capture” and augment their experiences. The objective of DigiFREN is to study this transformative chapter in the history of environmental relations in Europe.
We conceive digital aestheticization in a constant dialectical tension between the particular experience and the universal views of the environment, as a multifaceted, divergent, and actively negotiated process. Hence, it is epistemologically productive to explore it in historically, culturally, and ecologically specific, yet representative locales, where elucidation of differences and parallels can yield insights into digital aestheticization “as such”. The historically and ethnographically grounded research will elucidate the shared and divergent ways in which digital media and technology transform human-environmental relations, in their sensory, affective, discursive, and practical aspects, in five European countries. DigiFREN will approach digital aestheticization of fragile environments as it unfolds in everyday life, and, more specifically, contexts of outdoor leisure. Slovenia’s Alpine valleys of Solčavsko and Bohinj, Croatia’s Adriatic coast in Telašćica and Paklenica, Finnish peatlands of Sodankylä and Lieksa, Sørmarka urban forest in Stavanger in Norway, and the Oder River Valley in Lower Silesia in Poland have been carefully selected to reflect the cultural and ecological diversity of Europe and to exemplify common, Europe-wide processes.

Exploring processes and implications of digital aestheticization in and across the five field-sites, DigiFREN will address the following interrelated and complementary research questions and introduce new, innovative procedures, developed specifically for the study of “post-digital worlds” (Berry 2014):
1) How does digital “deterritorialization” (Deleuze 1997) of fragile environments reconfigure processes of aestheticization? We examine how, and for what purposes, are places and environments uprooted and disseminated through time and space when enmeshed with algorithmic and digitally-augmented mechanisms. Inevitably, questions regarding digital “reterritorialization” will arise.
2) What aesthetic categories are mobilized, and how are cultural worlds transformed in this process? In doing so, we explore how our perceptions, imaginings, sensibilities, affects, and actions both in situ and beyond are digitally modified and mediated, producing new forms of “prosthetic culture” (Lury 2004).
3) How does environmental (including climate) change become perceptible and meaningful in European cultural contexts through digital aestheticization? Emerging “spectacles of change” (see Grebowicz 2014), and ways of their employment, are examined in more detail with regard to their sensory, affective, cultural, and ecological, as well as economic and political potentialities.
4) Interrelatedness and in-betweenness of digital and non-digital, online and offline engagements calls for a judicious and discerning methodological approach. To this end, the project employs an array of established methods and introduces the method of senso-digital walking.

To track digital aestheticization of fragile environments, DigiFREN employs (1) an array of established methodological strategies and (2) introduces new, innovative procedures. Productive implementation of the selected methods is assured by the inclusion of sensory and digital ethnography, autoethnography, and discourse analysis experts, as well as walking methodologies specialists in the research team. The innovative integration of multi-perspective ethnographic fieldwork at the level of everyday practices with a comparative perspective that includes both localized and nonlocal, diachronic and synchronic poles will provide new and unprecedented insights into everyday life in a digitalizing Europe.

By focusing on digital aestheticization of fragile environments both in and in-between particular European locales, we aim to fill a gap in socio-cultural understanding of digitalization, its significance for our everyday lives, and implications for our dealings with environmental change. Such an approach will yield results crucial both for the academic and for the general public.

Researchers from the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), Jagiellonian University (Poland), Institute of ethnology and folklore research and University of Zadar (Croatia), University of Eastern Finland (Finland), and University of Stavanger (Norway) are accomplished in the fields of environmental anthropology and environmental history, science and technology studies, digital anthropology, history of technology, anthropology of outdoor leisure, popular culture and sensory studies, as well as anthropology and cultural studies of art, and epistemology and methodology of ethnographic research.

Project Digital Aestheticization of Fragile Environments was funded within the CHANSE Programme that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grand Agreement No 817992, and with funds from the Croatian Science Foundation.