Accepted Paper:

Creeping changes and careful observation: the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and its competing public interests  

Author:

Jonathan Skinner (University of Surrey)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the public workings of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in the Eastern Caribbean, its pronouncements and their reception. I show how continuity is achieved in the context of crisis, change and uncertainty.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at the public workings of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory on the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat in the Eastern Caribbean. For nearly ten years now, the scientists at the Observatory have been observing, recording and publicizing the tectonic developments on the island. One of the MVO's main policies has been to disseminate information about the volcano to British and Montserrat governments, the lay public on the island, school children living beneath the volcano and, most recently, 'volcano tourists'

The MVO has thus had to cope with competing interests ranging from a local population seeking stasis in a slow-changing and creeping disaster situation, and development officials wanting fixed projections and forecasts as to the nature of the active volcano (aptly named Mount Chance), to tourists wanting an intimate tour of a risky, exciting, dangerous, fast-paced and sublime natural disaster of pyroclastic mudflows, sudden eruptions, mass evacuations and the possibility of imminent smoldering death.

The MVO serves its public very well. It recently successfully moved into a state-of-the-art Observatory overlooking the volcano (previously, the Observatory was behind a hill next to the volcano) with panoramic viewing stations for scientists and the visiting public. By examining the history of the MVO, its pronouncements and their reception, the tours taken of the Observatory by tourists, and scientific briefings and public talks given on Montserrat and in the UK, I show how continuity is achieved in the context of crisis and change. This continuity, however, is a 'continuity' contrived by way of creep, a continuity of organizational homeostasis, and a continuity sought from the scientists by a public living with - or visiting - uncertainty.

Panel W017
Problems of continuity and change