Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - DATACONFINEMENT (Data in Context: Standardization of Metadata and Theoretical Perspectives in Biodiversity Research)

We argue that 'locality', perhaps the most mundane term in ecology, holds a basic ambiguity: two perspectives of space - exogenous and interactionist - which are both necessary for a rigorous resurvey to 'the same' locality in the field, are committed to different practices with no common measurement. Our case studies unfold the failure of the standard assumption that an exogenous grid of longitude and latitude, as fine-grained as one wishes, suffices for re-visiting a species locality. We study why locality data produced by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) does not 'incorporate', 'merge with' or interoperate with data produced by descriptive field-notes. We argue that minute technical decisions have gradually entrenched a conceptual gap between two concepts of space in the working practices of scientists.

One concept of space, as something 'out there,' unaffected by the organisms inhabiting it, is embedded in representations of 'locality' in a biodiversity database via the use of an exogenous regular grid of latitude and longitude. This concept is inevitably in tension with a view of space as a dynamic organism-environment relation embedded in representations of locality recorded in narrative, context-sensitive field-notes. The question is whether this conceptual gap stops the work or can be productively resolved.

We suggest a methodology of alternating between spatial scales and between concepts of space, coupled with reflective evaluations by scientists of the historical practices in their organisation. In the case studies we followed, and we suspect in others as well, it seems more useful to mind the gap than to deny its existence.

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