Simulation and the Vulnerability of Technological Cultures - New trends in eHumanities

Matthijs Kouw, University of Maastricht


February 2, 2012

Simulation and the Vulnerability of Technological Cultures

Simulations and models play a key role in technological cultures in terms of understanding, predicting, and countering risks. In this presentation, I will present my PhD dissertation in which I evaluate the possible consequences of social reliance on simulations and models. In my dissertation, I ask how simulations and models enable knowledge of risks, and to what extent their use makes technological cultures susceptible to risks, e.g. through assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots.

To address these questions, I studied epistemological, historical, institutional, and socio-political aspects of simulation practice. The empirical focus of the dissertation is the use of simulations and models in water management in the Netherlands. I carried out an ethnographic study of simulation practice at various institutions working in the field of water management in the Netherlands. This resulted in case studies pertaining to the use of simulations and models in hydrology (hydraulic engineering and flood monitoring), geotechnical engineering (soil mechanics and dike failure mechanisms), and ecology (participatory water quality modeling and governance in the context of the Water Framework Directive).

Simulations and models play a Janus-faced role in technological cultures: although they are technological prostheses that (potentially) induce vulnerabilities by increasing dependence on technological practices, they may also have empowering effects due to their ability to provide knowledge of risks.

I am close to submitting my PhD thesis, which I wrote at the Maastricht Virtual Knowledge Studio within the Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University. More generally, my research interests are: simulations and models; risk; uncertainty and ignorance; technologies of participation and governance; engineering studies; data visualization; software studies; craft / craftsmanship; materialist philosophies (e.g. Deleuze-Guattari, DeLanda); ‘continental’ philosophy (e.g. Spinoza, Sloterdijk, Stengers, Badiou, etc.) I did my MA in Philosophy in Amsterdam and Berlin, which I concluded by writing a thesis on the concept of technology in the work of Simondon, Deleuze, and Latour. Subsequently, I obtained my MSc in Science and Technology Studies in Amsterdam (cum laude), where I wrote a thesis on the Internet of Things, RFID, and data visualization. During my studies and before embarking on the PhD journey, I worked in software development.