How “Big” Is Ecology?

From One Ecotron to the Other
By Céline Granjou

In order to explore ecology’s current claims to status and relevance, this article proposes to describe the economy of scientific bigness at stake in the case of the experimental research infrastructures called ecotrons. I conducted a sociological inquiry into the case of two ecotrons recently built in France. This research included interviews and the reconstitution of experimental patterns and scenarios in the ecotrons. I compared them with the ecotron built in London at the beginning of the 1990s in order to shed light on the evolution of the types of bigness and the types of disciplinary models and hierarchies at stake. I argue that French ecotrons are about making ecology big by combining a reference to “hard science,” following the model of physics, with a reference to the relevance of science, following the model of climate science. The use of climatic scenarios and the focus on microorganisms in the ecotrons contribute to turning ecology into anticipatory and engineering science that helps secure the functioning of ecosystems in a context of global changes. Finally, I stress how, from the ecotron in London to the French ecotrons, ecology’s relevance was renegotiated in terms of a securitization of nature as vital infrastructure to human societies—away from issues of nature and biodiversity conservation.

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