Posts Tagged ‘Cold Spring Harbor’

I gave a talk at Det Norske Veritas (DNV) about my research on energy consulting, by invitation of Bradd Libby who works in an Arctic research section of the organization.

Bradd and I met in January at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø.

It was then that I first heard him mention DNV’s interest in Arctic specific research, from climate change impacts to practical experiments for determining the quantity of ice build up on ocean vessels in Arctic conditions.

In 2011, at the Oslo Energy Forum in Holmenkollen, I met DNV chief executive officer Henrik O. Madsen, PhD, businessman and engineer. Henrik, for several nights, was emcee to the delight of attendees. Here is a photograph of Henrik on stage delivering a summary of the days events.

DNV is a “classification society” serving as a foundation for “Safeguarding life, property, and the environment”. The organization evaluates technical conditions of merchant vessels and provides services for managing risk. The company was retained by the US government for investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 300 offices in 100 countries, 10,000 employees focusing on transport, energy, health care — its reach is comprehensive.

I had planned a talk on Historical Change in Visualization, when, over drinks the evening prior, Torild Nissen Lie, also of DNV, mentioned that my observations on how firms communicate would be of interest.

It was advice from a fortune cookie.

After drinks, I went back to the hotel and re-wrote my presentation to focus on how consulting firms create Communities of Interpretation.

A similar occurrence happened last week.

On the evening prior to my presentation before U. Tromsø faculty, Sidsel Saugestad, over a whisky, pointed out that I should drop the Visualization topic and lead with an ethnographic presentation.

Traipsing back to the computer keyboard, I reworked everything hours before presenting.

Thankfully, the two outcomes were the same. Both presentations turned out to be crowd pleasers. Phew!

But that is getting ahead of myself. On the morning of my DNV presentation, with travel directions from Bradd, I hopped a cab to Oslo central station suddenly realizing that I left my camera in the hotel room.

I hopped out and told the driver to circle the hotel and meet me at the entrance. Typically, I use the I-Phone camera, but had forgotten the charging cord in Tromsø, and would now rely on a point-and-shoot.

Lucky that I remembered.

There were so many interesting interior images I wanted to capture, including Bradd’s bricoleur constructions for carrying out experiments, which included assembling locally bought hardware store items (funnel, duct tape, screws, plastic pipe) into a capturing device for measuring sea spray — for placement on a research vessel.

But I refrained from taking photos as it was the first time we had all gotten together more formally.

The DNV “campus” — as folks including myself refer to the layout of buildings, is located on a knoll, that slides down into a cove located on the Oslo Fjord.

It is the site of an old glass factory, with the buildings now refurbished serving different purposes. The town is Høvik, a suburban center, west end of Oslo, in the municipality of Bærum, the latter noted for having the highest income per capita in Norway, highest proportion of university-educated individuals, and most fashionable residential areas.

During this time of year, autumn, the DNV campus is beautiful and reminded me of two other places, Belvedere Island, Tiburon, California, where I grew up, and Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York, where I visited friends while an undergraduate at Columbia University. These towns are located on inlets, surrounded by deciduous trees, and whose forms of artificiality and enlightenment contrast that of the university form.

One of the first persons with whom I was introduced was T. K., who among other duties, served as one of the lead authors of the Barents 2020, a 300-page report assessing international standards for safe exploration, production, and transportation of oil and gas in the Barents Sea.

Five years in the making, the report creates knowledge from a working relationship with Russian counterparts and Western European specialists.

Efforts such as the Barents 2020 impress.

It is a reference document for the sciences, as evidenced last week at U. Tromsø, where scientists submitting proposals to the Research Council Norway Polar Program, cited the report in requests for further study on oil and gas development, a point I conveyed to T.K.

But discussion of the report also offered an opportunity to discuss DNV’s working relationship with VNIIGAZ, the scientific research institute of Russian natural gas giant GAZPROM.

T.K. acknowledged that there is generally an issue over the lack of knowledge sharing with Russian counterparts. Yet, he also stated that the knowledge issue is not so difficult as long as you maintain continual contact over the long term and settle in and familiarize yourself with the data on-site.

I had a chance to meet with Bradd’s team members all of whom held science and engineering backgrounds and are for the most part in their 30s and early 40s.

Present at my talk were about 18 persons. That we had been discussing the techno-science role of DNV, I decided to begin my talk by paraphrasing a passage from Norbert Elias in which he points out that 18th century court society developed an extraordinarily sensitive feeling for the status and importance that should be attributed to persons on the basis of speech, manner or appearance.

My work deals with appearances, which serve as an instrument of self-assertion and social differentiation, the display of rank through outward form. As such, I wanted to prepare folks for what was coming.

Bradd was funny. He introduced me by giving his own stereotype of what cultural anthropologists do, describing us as wearing wide rimmed hats and hanging out in tropical villages (“but in this case Arthur studies people like us!”).

So we laughed and that was a good beginning.

I presented a combination of works, referring to recent manuscripts which can be accessed on my StudioPolar.com site.

A unique occurrence that took place, or at least I thought it was indicative of the general interest in my talk: at 2PM Fridays, the group typically meets for a wine bottle lottery and candy share. Whomever wins the wine bottle, brings candy the next week, or something of that design. At any rate, we began at 1PM and I was advised that nearer to 2PM — I could expect folks departing for the friday mini-celebration.

To my surprise — and I had hoped only to speak 40 minutes but actually ended at 1:55PM — most folks stayed and asked questions until about 2:20PM, which I found gratifying.

The questions were good. One question concerned whether I was making too many generalizations, based upon a case study of natural gas restructuring in North America. Or rather, whether my entire presentation was too general.

And this was an accurate critique, in the sense that I was introducing, ambitiously, at least 7 points in my talk, referring to a historical shift in visualization toward more abstract forms of interpretation; the role of energy consultants in creating consensus among competing parties; the role of government after the OPEC embargo in creating institutions that could collect data that would provide independent firms to thrive; the general point about a semantic collapse in national energy systems during the 1980s; and the overall collapse of 3 historical autonomous forms of Knowledge and Human Interests, as once laid out by Jurgen Habermas but which now represents, under environmental sciences, a combination of prediction, vision, and ethics — Really, quite a lot to cover in less than one hour.

Looking back, I should have stated that what I do is a combination of Historical Constructivism and Philosophical Empiricism and that a statement of such at the beginning would probably have cleared up things.

But instead, I responded by appealing to empirical grounds, stating yes, the European condition is quite different (regulation, technical aspects of pipes, marketing), but that in general, the Western European and American case can — as a general form, be considered unique, in comparison to, say, the Middle Eastern form, which still regards visuals as truthful when shown in an immediacy of the recognizable image, which, for those in the room at any rate, can only be grasped as falsity.

But it was a good point.

Another set of issues surrounded the performativity of visuals, whether consultants can do more than justify an independent stance over development or whether they can perform certain futures. Here, I demurred and provided a 3-point answer: all of the above.

There was a question over whether emancipation of the earth was simply anthropomorphizing the planet. Again, to speak otherwise would bring us back into a Weberian conception of science as a vocation (a separation of the current collapse of knowledge and human interests). That was my response at any rate.

Finally, there was a funny question about the Kantian aesthetic, and whether we would ever go back to the anti-Kantian aesthetic, in terms of visuals. I responded by pointing to Norbert EliasHistory of Manners, suggesting that we have been moving steadily across history toward an aesthetics of increased refinement and delicacy.

That likely, the shift from an anti-Kantian to a Kantian aesthetic reflects this trend, where today, instead of seeing the violence perpetrated upon the earth by reference to images of “pollution” (or such immediately recognizable images of environmental insult), we now prefer to look upon images of graphs– the relationship of surface temperature to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, as one example — as if prediction is now the only form of determining environmental remediation.

Overall, I thought the presentation went well.

Afterward, I had a final opportunity to convene with Bradd and his section leader M.W. We talked on a variety of issues, including unique areas of Bradd’s research on potentially disruptive (innovative) technologies for the Arctic.

Our discussion resulted in follow up themes that I am hoping to collaborate on with Bradd for developing a stronger relationship between my own research and the DNV Arctic research team. These include, communication and conveyance of risk; the formal system of networks in the Arctic; a social science exploration of identifying contours of proprietary knowledge; a topic I suggested, geoengineering, because I felt that once we identify ourselves as the purveyors of climate change, while it may result in political action, as Al Gore states in Inconvenient Truth, it most likely will result in, well, more scientific progress! (testing on the earth, knowing that we can now manage it).

Finally, it was time  to go home. Bradd and I walked down to the shuttle that would carry us to the train heading for Oslo.

Bradd lives in Norway with his family, but I told him, and not without some laughter, that he was still very much of the American Risk Taker ilk — placing me, as he did, a cultural anthropologist in front of his colleagues to see what happens, an experimental gesture to be sure, and I was grateful for the opportunity. We shook hands at Oslo central station and proceeded to our respective destinations.

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