The Labor Politics of Big Science: Infrastructure and Organizational Change in Oceanography and Ecology. 4S ’13.

The Labor Politics of Big Science: Infrastructure and Organizational Change in Oceanography and Ecology

Stephanie B. Steinhardt, Steven J. Jackson


As U.S. national pressure heightens to address the societal-level concerns about climate change and urbanization, significant federal investment has been directed toward acquiring usable, long-term data sets that support the pursuit of answers to grand challenge scientific questions about the earth. As a result, a sea change toward big science endeavors is occurring in fields previously organized around smaller-scale and PI-led traditions of work. This shift toward more networked, collaborative, and distributed forms of science necessitates the mobilization of human and capital resources on a large scale, often requiring unprecedented organizational structures, forms of governance and investment, and scientific roles. The reorienting of labor politics as a result of these developments brings to light new tensions in credit, compensation, authority, security and sustainability of employment� and at the broadest level, the form and possibility of a meaningful and sustainable life in science. This presentation explores the forms of technological development and the new kinds of scientific roles and careers that support the construction and enacting of that vision. Building from empirical work around two current NSF large facilities construction projects, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), this work draws attention to the shifting conditions of work and employment that accompany � and may partly limit or undermine �some of the leading initiatives in collaborative scientific network development today.

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