Small island modelisation: an opportunity for dialogue between local and scientific knowledge?

Royal Anthropology Institute Conference: Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change


May 27, 2016
11:30am to 12:30pm
London, UK


This panel encourages dialogue between social scientists studying the making of scientific knowledge of climate and provides a platform where both social and natural scientists converse about the potential of anthropology for interdisciplinary collaboration and debate about climate change.


Small islands are very vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change, which consequences impact marine and terrestrial biodiversity, human health, habitat and activities. Despite evidences of impacts in situ, epistemological tensions between scientists and local populations often slow down mitigation and adaptation processes.

Following an symmetrical anthropology approach drawing from Michel Callon (1986) the co-authors (a biologist and a human geographer) have observed that the necessity to improve adaptation and resilience of local socio-ecological systems is a shared concern among scientists and local population, who both care deeply about local biodiversity, environmental and cultural heritage, albeit not in the same way.

In an heuristic fashion, this paper wants to reflect on the potential of data science methods in environment modelisation as a new "place" both for preservation (of local and scientific knowledge), negotiation (of the different form of knowledge) and decision making (in a disaster mitigation perspective). The paper will focus on the ongoing development of two modelisation efforts conducted on and about the Polynesian Island of Moorea: 1. a proof of concept, coordinated through the new Moorea Ecostation Center for Advanced Studies to build a virtual representation of Moorea - the Moorea Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar. 2. The Ethnocode project which seeks to preserve biological and linguistic diversity by strengthening local capacities to transmit traditional knowledge in a common pedagogic framework.

Building on the concepts of epistemic cultures (Knorr Cetina, 2009) and attachment (Latour, 1999; Hache, 2011), we will discuss the opportunities, tensions and questions that arose from these projects.


Charlotte Cabasse

BIDS Alum – BIDS Ethnographer

Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel is now the Executive Director of the  Digital Humanities Center, jointly launched by the University of Lausanne (UniL) and the Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL). 

Charlotte Cabasse-Mazel holds a PhD in Geography and Science and Technologies Studies from the University of Paris-Est, where she studied at the Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Sociétés (LATTS), at Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. She is interested in the ways in which practices and methodologies of data science transform production of knowledge and interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as  scientific personae and trajectories within the academic institution.

Her PhD research focused on the creation of hybrid communities and the transformation of subjects (both resident/expert) and space, facing risk of natural disasters in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Previously researcher at EPFL, Switzerland, she worked on research projects questioning the definition of “science”, “society”, “future” and “risk”. She also participated to join research-action project with UN Agencies (ISRD, WHO) in Madagascar.

Before going back to graduate school, she was a civil servant in French Embassy in South Africa and an NGO project coordinator for Aide Médicale Internationale (AMI) in Afghanistan and Indonesia. She also worked as a web and freelance journalist, having collaborated with French local and national newspapers.

She received her MA in Cultural Geography from Université de Reims, France; and MA and BA in Information and Communications Sciences from Université de la Sorbonne, Paris, France.

Neil Davies

Executive Director, Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station

Neil Davies is Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Gump South Pacific Research Station in Moorea, French Polynesia - the only coral reef site (MCR-LTER) in NSF’s Long Term Ecological Research network. Davies received his Ph.D. in evolutionary genetics from University College London and has conducted fieldwork across the Caribbean, Latin America, and Pacific Islands. He is an Associate Researcher at the Biodiversity Institute of Oxford University, and a member of the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON - Genetics Working Group). He serves on the boards of the Genomic Standards Consortium, the National Association of Marine Labs and the Tetiaroa Society.  

His research at BIDS focuses on sustainability science and how biodiversity genomics can contribute to a computational model of place - including the ‘datafication’ of whole social-ecological systems from genomes to society.  To that end, he is lead PI of the Moorea Biocode Project, chair of the Genomic Observatories Network, and co-founder of the Island Digital Ecosystem Avatars (IDEA) Consortium