Mind & Society

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 91–112 | Cite as

Learning in a landscape: simulation-building as reflexive intervention

  • Anne Beaulieu
  • Matt Ratto
  • Andrea Scharnhorst


This article makes a dual contribution to scholarship in science and technology studies (STS) 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 (past and potential) 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.


Knowledge dynamics Knowledge spaces Intervention Ethnography Models in science Reflexivity Simulation 



The simulation-building work described in this manuscript was funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Germany) and the European Social Fund, while the work of Matt Ratto was funded by the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) through the project Dissimilar Simulation: the Epistemics of Simulation in the Humanities, in the framework program ‘Culturele vernieuwing en de grondslagen van de geesteswetenschappen’. We are grateful to the other members of the simulation project for discussions on the issues analyzed in this article, and to John Erpenbeck who encouraged us to work on the interactive aspect of the simulations. We would also like to thank the editors and reviewers of this special issue, many careful and critical readers including Marcel Boumans, Guenter Kueppers, Sabina Leonelli, and Kyriaki Papageorgiou, as well as the members of the Virtual Knowledge Studio for their detailed comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Mathematics and Natural SciencesUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of InformationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Data Archiving and Networked ServicesRoyal Netherlands Academy of Arts and SciencesThe HagueThe Netherlands

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