Short note on ‘Objects, Infrastructure and Vocation’

Infra­struc­ture and Voca­tion: Field, Call­ing and Com­pu­ta­tion in Ecology
A bril­liant CHI paper by Steven Jack­son and Sarah Bar­brow. How many papers pre­sent­ed at CHI cite St. Augus­tine of Hip­po and, to boot, suc­ceed in draw­ing out rel­e­vant reflec­tions on sci­en­tif­ic mod­el­ling tools in ecol­o­gy. See­ing ecol­o­gy through the lens of both infra­struc­ture and the ‘voca­tion­al call­ing’ pro­vides a pro­duc­tive view onto what ecol­o­gists do and how their prac­tices are chang­ing. Jack­son and Bar­brow illus­trate this nice­ly by writ­ing of the chang­ing notion of ‘the field’ for ecol­o­gists. I see a strong par­al­lel here between ecol­o­gy and biol­o­gy. Biol­o­gy is a field very much in tran­si­tion and the changes have much to do with the mate­r­i­al encoun­ters in bio­log­i­cal work — with for exam­ple the chang­ing nature of biol­o­gists’ work at ‘the bench’ and with exper­i­men­tal appa­ra­tus. The turn to machines, com­pu­ta­tion and algo­rithms is not only reshap­ing the prac­tices but also refig­ur­ing what biol­o­gists know and how they see their phe­nom­e­na (some­thing we also tried to get across in At the inter­face of biol­o­gy and com­pu­ta­tion at CHI). A sim­i­lar con­clu­sion is being drawn out in this papers as it cap­tures the entan­gled rela­tions between the tools, prac­tices and ways of know­ing in ecology.

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