Private Science & Environmental Governance at the AAG

James Porter, a friend of mine from Geography at King’s College London, is co-convening a session at the 2008 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting to address the issue of the increasing contribution of ‘private science’ to environmental decision-making and knowledge about the world around us. Sounds like it will be an interesting session – if I actually make it to the AAG next year I’ll have to swing by.

Submissions for the session are open until October 21st 2007. Abstracts and PIN numbers (obtained by registering your abstract online) should be sent to James Porter (james.porter at and Leigh Johnson (leighjohnson at Conference information here. Submit your abstract and get your PIN here.

Here’s the session details and call for papers in full:

Private Science, Environmental Governance & the Management of Knowledge
Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, April 15-19, 2008
Boston, MA

In the US and UK, new forms of market-based, commercially driven, and politically relevant demands are restructuring the context of scientific research and the social norms and values therein. No longer can academic institutions expect the same levels of public support immortalized by Vannevar Bush; in recent decades we have seen the rapid ascent of private science or science for hire to fill the void. Science is now routinely contracted-out to the private sector to produce a range of products from Climate Forecast Predictions, flood modeling outputs, risk assessments, chemical tests, life-style drugs and myriad other products that find their way into public policy and regulatory decision-making. The appeal of this new form of scientific research is its cost-effectiveness, its embrace of strategic ignorance, and its flexibility in allowing clients to guide the design and outcome of the work produced.

Yet, environmental governance is shaped extensively by the use of scientific knowledge. In the context of governing citizens, regulating private enterprise, and guiding development, what happens when nature and science are conceptualized in terms of their commercial potential? Geographers are uniquely positioned to provide theoretical depth and empirical evidence to answer these questions. We seek papers addressing (though not limited to) the following questions:

  • How are commercial science, modeling, and assessments done in practice? What is lost and equally gained in this process? What is ignored in these new knowledge productions?
  • These questions open up room to consider the contested practice of translation: who chooses what is to be translated? Who does the translation? Does the quality of translation impact the nature of knowledge, and if so, how? How might unlikely allies become enrolled in the project?
  • Can we discern a particular set of preferred methodologies or instruments that are consistently deployed in the performance of private science? Are these characteristic of a particular neoliberal mode of governance?
  • If private science has come to dominate fact-making about nature, does this entail a transformation from the rule of (bureaucratic) experts? How do these new forms of knowledge gain authoritative status, if at all?
  • What are the implications for the subjects of governance?

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