So, one of the pleasures of being a PhD student is that you get – occasionally – to sit around and talk about stuff you’ve read (it’s less pleasurable when it’s something you’ve written [i.e. supervisions]. But I digress). As part of the cities/urban sustainability reading group, we were getting our thinking gear wrapped around Evans, J (the j stands for jeriatric) and Karvonen, A. 2014. Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Lower Your Carbon Footprint!’ — Urban Laboratories and the Governance of Low-Carbon Futures. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 38.2 March 2014 413–30
This bit leapt out
Kohler charts the frequent use of the expression ‘natural laboratory’ in field biologists’ public and private writings from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The idea formed part of what he calls biologists’ ‘imaginative infrastructure’ — an implicit but powerful framework for thinking about how human experimenters can know nature. This ‘imaginative infrastructure’ resonates with the way in which the concept of urban laboratories is currently applied to sustainability. Urban laboratories share the assumption that such experiments are superior in their ‘adherence to life as it is really lived’ (Kohler, 2002: 215) and are capable of producing knowledge that will be useful and hence transformative, even if it falls short of the more controlled conditions offered in laboratory activities. The rhetoric surrounding the use of urban laboratories today attests to the desire to capture the authority of experimentation without giving up the authenticity of the real world.
In a chapter titled ‘Border practices’, Kohler considers how the pioneers of population biology worked in the field, developing a systematic approach to data collection over wide areas that allowed them to replicate the causal analysis associated with laboratories. The requirements of the field site were very different for these field biologists. Rather than unique settings in which to observe the more unusual of nature’s experiments unfold, site selection was driven by ease of access and the practicalities of collecting large amounts of data. The paradigmatic example discussed is Raymond Lindeman’s field studies of Cedar Creek Bog in Minnesota, which yielded the trophic-dynamic theory of energy flow that underpins the systems logic of modern ecology. Cedar Creek was chosen because it was easy to access and revealed its secrets cheaply; it was shallow, with a very simple species structure, and, if that was not enough, it could be cored to reveal species compositions over many years. In this way, population biologists managed to develop explanatory analyses from field studies by collecting such a surfeit of data that it became possible to identify variables and causal links between them. Musing on this hybrid, Kohler (2002: 218) asks, ‘what are we to make of a practice whose techniques are of the field, but whose rules of knowing are of the lab?’
This, to quote Tom ‘Lobachevsky’ Lehrer, I knew from nothing.
Kohler reference is this Kohler, R. (2002) Landscapes and labscapes:
exploring the lab–field border in biology. Chicago University Press, Chicago, IL.
Defo an #afterthethesis read
Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve – wikipedia here
Raymond Lindeman – wikipedia here.
The Ten percent law means to the transfer of energy from one trophic level to the next was introduced by Raymond Lindeman (1942). According to this law, during the transfer of energy from organic food from one trophic level to the next, only about ten percent of the energy from organic matter is stored as flesh. The remaining is lost during transfer, broken down in respiration, or lost to incomplete digestion by higher trophic level.
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