Learning in a landscape: simulation-building as reflexive intervention

Mind and Society 12 (1):91-112 (2013)
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Abstract

This article makes a dual contribution to scholarship in science and technology studies on simulation-building. It both documents a specific simulation-building project, and demonstrates a concrete contribution of STS insights to interdisciplinary work. The article analyses the struggles that arise in the course of determining what counts as theory, as model and even as a simulation. Such debates are especially decisive when working across disciplinary boundaries, and their resolution is an important part of the work involved in building simulations. In particular, we show how ontological arguments about the value of simulations tend to determine the direction of simulation-building. This dynamic makes it difficult to maintain an interest in the heterogeneity of simulations and a view of simulations as unfolding scientific objects. As an outcome of our analysis of the process and reflections about interdisciplinary work around simulations, we propose a chart, as a tool to facilitate discussions about simulations. This chart can be a means to create common ground among actors in a simulation-building project, and a support for discussions that address other features of simulations besides their ontological status. Rather than foregrounding the chart’s classificatory potential, we stress its role in discussing and reflecting on simulation-building as interdisciplinary endeavor. This chart is a concrete instance of the kinds of contributions that STS can make to better, more reflexive practice of simulation-building

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