Thursday, 9 April 2015

Media Cultures of Computer Simulation - visiting fellowship

by Martin

(c) MECS 2015
I'll be spending the next couple of months as a Research Fellow at the MECS Institute in Lueneburg, Germany - the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation. It's a really interesting, small interdisciplinary group of scholars united by an interest in the transformations wrought by computer simulation on knowledge-making and forms of life, thus connecting with my interests in the role of climate simulation in the science and politics of climate change.

During my fellowship I'll be extending a project started over the past few months on the emergence and institutionalisation of climate prediction in the UK, focusing on the establishment of the Met Office Hadley Centre. I've called the project 'Resolution: regional climate modelling and the visibility of climate change', as I'm particularly interested in the role that regional prediction, or the promises of regional prediction, played in the establishment of a close working relationship between the UK Met Office and what was then the Department of the Environment in the late 1980s and early '90s. I've long found regional climate modelling to be an interesting practice employed at the boundaries of science and politics, with the possibilities of high-resolution climatic information - often portrayed on maps designed to emphasise their superior realism compared to global models - seemingly offering a seductive way of coming to terms with how climate change might alter relations between climates and societies at local scales. 

The more recent rise of so-called 'climate services' has extended this science-policy culture of high resolution prediction whose origins I want to trace. While I'm in the area, I hope to start mapping some of the simulation practices being employed by climate service providers in the Hamburg region, where a range of institutions have pioneered new forms of climatic expertise. To me, this is all part of a long and interesting story about the reconfiguration of expertise in governmental efforts to come to terms with environmental change. Although this history is often narrated as one of science becoming ever more certain while politics refuses to listen, dig a little deeper and there are interesting questions about how particular strategies for understanding climate change have been, as Simon Shackley and Brian Wynne put it in 1995, 'mutually constructed' by scientific and political actors.

I'll be at MECS until the end of May, but will soon be returning to Lueneburg to present some of my work at the conference Dealing with Climate Change: Calculation and Catastrophe in the Age of Simulation in June, which will bring together an international group of historians, philosophers and sociologists of science to consider "computer simulations as cultural techniques since they realign and reorganize not only epistemic communities but also intervene into social and (geo-)political orders". 

Shackley, S., & Wynne, B. (1995). Global climate change: the mutual construction of an emergent science-policy domain. Science and Public Policy, 22(4), 218-230.

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