The Ontological Politics of Interdisciplinary Climate Research

Authors: Kevin St. Martin*, Rutgers University
Topics: Social Theory, Geographic Thought
Keywords: ontological politics, political ecology, communities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Understanding global climate change has largely been the purview of the natural sciences supported by modeling techniques and related algorithmic approaches. Recent attempts to broaden perspectives on climate change often focus on the inclusion and integration of social science approaches and the problem of bridging epistemological and methodological divides. While the search for some integrated or inclusive epistemology of climate change has been elusive, we argue that finding ontological common ground is not only possible but offers a means to producing synthetic findings unimaginable without a shared ontology. Furthermore, given that status and power of algorithmic logics in climate science, it is vital that ontologies be, at least in part, algorithmically constituted. Studies of marine environmental change use decades of survey and catch data by species as the basis for modeling which makes clear the “poleward” movement of commercially important fish species as waters warm. Understanding how fishing communities are responding to these range shifts requires an interdisciplinary approach where community constraints, contexts, and mobilities can be explicated. To address this problem our work foregrounds a particular algorithmically produced object that acts as a locus for both natural and social science research. The shared concept of fishing communities and their territorial domains, as calculated by a particular algorithm, works as a site where all members of the interdisciplinary team can construct meaning. The goal is not to merge epistemological approaches but co-constitute our shared object of analysis, fishing communities, in multiple ways..

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