Promises that matter: Reconfiguring ecology in the ecotrons

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Science and Technology Studies, 2016, 29 (3), pp. 49 - 67
Issue Date:
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Ecotrons are large instruments designed to produce experimentally valid knowledge through the controlled manipulation of enclosed, simplifi ed ecosystems. Situating the ecotrons within a select genealogy of artifi cial biospheres, and drawing on interviews with key researchers engaged in the conception and recent construction of two ecotrons in France, we propose to think through ecotrons as promissory and anticipatory infrastructures that materialize a profound reconfi guration of ecologists' roles within wider civilizational narratives. Ecotrons encapsulate ecologists' ambitions to practice a 'hard' science, recognized by international environmental and science policy forums. They were integral to rise of the sub-discipline of functional ecology, which in turn underpins the policy discourse of 'ecosystem services'. Combining patterns of controlled experimentation with live simulations of future environmental conditions anticipated in climate change scenarios, the ecotron materialises a reorientation of the vocation of ecology: To secure the resilience of those 'ecosystem services' deemed critical to social life. Originally tasked with assessing the eff ects of biodiversity loss on the productivity and stability of the biosphere, ecotron research is increasingly focused on anthropogenic microbial ecosystems, and takes place within a terminology resolutely optimistic about the possibilities of microecological engineering, to the exclusion of earlier concerns with mass extinction.
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