Speaker: Stefan Helmreich (MIT)
Title: Significant Waves: An Anthropologist Examines the History and Culture of Wave Science at Scripps
In this talk, anthropologist of science Stefan Helmreich reports on archival research and fieldwork he has conducted on the practice of ocean wave science at Scripps. Interleaving an account of his 2017 stay on R/P FLIP (the FLoating Instrument Platform), he makes a historical case that from World War Two to the present, the orienting contexts of wave research discovery and motivation have shifted from military to ecological concerns, with one effect a rapprochement between physical and biological oceanography. He also argues that what wave science takes waves to be has been strongly imprinted by the techniques and technologies — mathematics, photography, spectral analysis, wave tanks — through which waves have been studied and come to be known. That waves are significant with respect to human-scaled concerns — individual, community, regional, global — makes wave science a practice relevant to cultural anthropological inquiry.