Traveling Codes 2017

// MECS + CGSC // International Workshop //  30. – 31. März 2017 //
Prof. Dr. Matthias Heymann: Keynote »Traveling Codes. Complexity or Control? Paradigms for Sustainable Development«


Environmental science and, in particular, climate science is a highly international and interdisciplinary endeavor aiming at global coverage of environmental changes in long-term trends, and at global projections of possible future developments. Environmental problems such as unrestricted change in land cover and pollution on the one side, and the reduction of ecological resilience, the loss of biodiversity, regional inequity and vulnerability on the other, characterize the challenges and impacts of climate change as a global phenomenon with regional effects. Starting with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 1972 in Stockholm the list of activities undertaken by the United Nations and others to articulate a response to growing environmental problems and to establish an infrastructure of worldwide coordination and negotiation for dealing with environmental issues is impressive. However, current developments in both climate science and politics question the focus on the globality of the ‘vast machine’ which climate science has become (Edwards, 2010), as calls have intensified for new forms of regional and local knowledge about the effects of climate change and efforts to tackle them, for instance in the form of regional ‘climate services‘. 

Against this background, this workshop seeks to use the metaphor of ‘traveling code‘ to make sense of what happens when climate science travels – whether in the form of mobile scientific tools, models, and software codes, circulating data sets and standards, or prominent artifacts like scientific images, knowledge claims or numerical targets. These forms and instances of traveling code encounter diverse cultural and political contexts which, on the one hand, involve a multitude of scientists, politicians, and citizens, with every community arguably incorporating and adapting the ‘codes’ of climate science differently. On the other hand, we may observe universalizing effects of ‘traveling codes’ – the smoothing of epistemic landscapes and the globalisation of scientific practice. This tension, between what we might call ‘localisation‘ and ‘globalisation‘, is of core interest for the workshop, along with the question of how exactly these ‘codes’ travel –through which social and media technologies– between different disciplines and knowledge cultures. What are the software codes, models, standards, data sets and images, the artifacts of climate science, that help us to understand and increasingly shape our world and future, and how have they migrated from their sites of production to new sites of application and interpretation? 

We propose the term »traveling codes« as a powerful metaphor that addresses general patterns of regional and local implementations and adaptations as well as the integrative potential of these codes as they knit together new, translocal communities of knowledge producers. These dynamics are best understood through case studies, for example on: 

  • the international exchange and regionalization of the software codes and algorithms of the models used for climate projections, 
  • the adaptation of the variety of codices of data formats and standards involved in climate science for regional and local uses, 
  • the transparency and interdependency of regimes of codification of knowledge on global, local and regional levels, 
  • the entanglement of discourses in different places and the integration of disciplines through shared models, 
  • the regional interpretation of images communicated by global media as visual codes of the statistical productions of climate science, 
  • the circulation of numerical policy targets and their associated calculative apparatuses.

Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Scharnhorststr. 1
21335 Lüneburg

MECS | Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation | 
CGSC | Center for Global Sustainability and Cultural Transformation

Konzept & Organisation
Gabriele Gramelsberger (MECS | Leuphana) 
Isabell Schrickel (CGSC | Leuphana) 
Martin Mahony (School of Geography | University of Nottingham)