Accepted Paper:

'By trees we measure': the temporalization of trees in science.  


Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

‘Western science’ has constantly relied on trees for understanding time, both by using analogies of the tree and by measuring them. The paper reflects on the particularities of these modes of conceptualizations and some important contradictions that emerge from them.

Paper long abstract:

In the history of 'western science' trees have been a constant presence. They have particularly influenced our understandings of the passage of time, at least in two fundamental ways. First, the image of the tree has influenced the way many sciences interested in the past understand history. Just to mention some of them, this long list includes genealogy, geology, biology, marine biology, linguistics, and archaeology, among others. Second many scientists currently work with trees as they try to understand the past by paying attention to the development of their biological properties and their surrounding environment. Rather than using analogies with trees for the understanding of history, these scientists have to work with trees in order to understand the past. The paper reflects on some of these ways of conceptualizing trees and their contrasting properties taking into consideration some key readings in the history of science. In doing so, ethnographic work carried out both with scientists that rely on analogies of the tree and scientists that study trees for understanding the past is also taken into consideration. The paper reveals that rather than a unified understanding of time there are different and sometimes contradictory ways of conceptualizing history relying on trees.

Panel P17
"By leaves we live": the vital politics and poetics of the tree