Promises that Matter: Reconfiguring Ecology in the Ecotrons

  • Céline Granjou
  • Jeremy Walker

Abstract

Ecotrons are large instruments designed to produce experimentally valid knowledge through the controlled manipulation of enclosed, simplifed ecosystems. Situating the ecotrons within a select genealogy of artificial biospheres, and drawing on interviews with key researchers engaged in the conception and recent construction of two ecotrons in France, we propose to think through ecotrons as promissory and anticipatory infrastructures that materialize a profound reconfiguration of ecologists’ roles within wider civilizational narratives. Ecotrons encapsulate ecologists’ ambitions to practice a ‘hard’ science, recognized by international environmental and science policy forums: they were integral to rise of the sub-discipline of functional ecology which underpins the policy discourse of ‘ecosystem services’. Combining patterns of controlled experimentation with live simulations of future environmental conditions anticipated in climate change scenarios, and thus materialise a reorientation of the vocation of ecology: to secure the resilience of those ‘ecosystem services’ deemed critical to social life. Originally tasked with assessing the effects of biodiversity loss on to the productivity and stability of ecosystems, ecotron research is increasingly focused on microbial ecosystems, and takes place within a terminology resolutely optimistic about the possibilities of ecological engineering, to the exclusion of earlier concerns with mass extinction. 

Keywords: ecotrons, functional ecology, infrastructure, biodiversity, anticipation, global warming