- Ian Angell, in the New Barbarian Manifesto, said “A ‘brave new world’ is being forced upon unsuspecting societies by advances in information technology.” It would seem then, that technological advances happen automatically and have a life of their own. There is a logic to technological advancements that is outside human control, so people tend to react to and accommodate technological change, rather than try to reverse or redirect it. Angell’s idea draws a line between two academic theories—either technology shapes people (technological determinism) or people shape technology (social constructionism). Although other scholars, like Tommy Tranvik and Bruno Latour, propose a hybrid approach to understanding the role of science and technology in contemporary culture. Tranvik argues that merging determinism and constructionism can show a more accurate depiction of reality, and in Aramis, or The Love of Technology Latour illustrates that technology and society co-develop. The combination of these two claims is a good starting point to further understand the powerful process of knowledge production, as it shapes and is shaped by the sciences, emerging technology, resource management, and environmental value.
This thesis argues that a reflexive relationship unfolded between the use of pteropods in the sciences, and their role in popular representation. Marine researchers assigned value to pteropods according to their research goals and the technologies available, which constrained the questions researchers asked about pteropods. That process of knowledge generation influenced the emergence of pteropods in popular representation. How the value of pteropods were represented in turn influenced the very process of scientific inquiry that made pteropods real, and valuable to begin with. In the case of groundfish, in the same way that policy and economy acted as constraining factors, so too have the complex relationships between scientific inquiry, technological choice, and data within the traditional ecological inference paradigm. The datasets needed to move the predictive power of the sciences forward was not available, so they had no incentive to develop them further. In turn, if management could not incorporate new datasets (like the ones collected nearshore, or with video), there was no incentive to make new, possibly better datasets available. This caused an iterative process of mutual stagnation between ecological inference and environmental decision making.
An additional chapter provides analysis of the authors own approach to knowledge generation and future directions for critical ocean studies. For example, experiences on interdisciplinary research projects, and the exploration of mixed methods in individual scholarship, provided unique opportunities to apply both traditional and non-traditional humanities methods to the study of political ecology, which has until recently been dominated by the field of geography. As the ocean is made knowable through the sciences, studying the enigma of scientific production is critical to understanding the politics of nature. Political ecology, it turns out, has nothing to do with the environment separate from us, out there somewhere. Instead it engages with how the ocean is measured, represented, and composed; how it is taken into account, and put into order.