Accepted Paper:

Contesting the Technological Zone: Local Responses to the Challenges of Knowing Impacts from Unconventional Gas Developments in Queensland, Australia  


Martin Espig (AgResearch)

Paper short abstract:

Unconventional coal seam gas (CSG) extraction in Australia has sparked controversies over its impacts. Knowing these risk is frequently dependent on technological devices and complex modelling. I explore locals’ contestations of these ‘technological zones’ and the politics of knowledge-making.

Paper long abstract:

The rapid development of unconventional coal seam gas (CSG) reserves in agricultural regions in the Australian state of Queensland has caused ongoing complex social controversies over projects' risks and potential impacts. Especially local actors are required to make sense of these developments and the resulting reconfiguration of their social and physical environments. However, this sense-making can be problematic since technical procedures mainly take place underground and surface impacts potentially occur beyond immediate phenomenological experience. Most of the impacts are therefore primarily understood and debated via abstract, often limited and even conflicting scientific knowledge claims. As such, their legitimate knowability is frequently reliant upon technological devices and complex modelling, or access restricted 'technological zones'.

Following ethnographic fieldwork in Queensland's expanding gas fields, I explore these problems of knowing and locals' attempts to be recognized participants in the resulting epistemic debates by contesting the 'technological zone'. I specifically focus on two different examples of grassroots participation: individuals' use of technical devices and independent scientific testing, and a government-led citizen science water monitoring programme. Both cases illustrate how historically authoritative institutions and regulatory processes of generating legitimate (scientific) knowledge are challenged within contemporary industrialized societies. As I argue, however, what is contested are not techno-scientific ways of knowing per se, but rather the acceptable production and application of such claims. Local responses to the challenges of CSG developments thus illustrate the rearrangement of epistemic authority and how we may think otherwise about equitable participation in the social controversies at the extractive frontier.

Panel T073
Epistemic Regimes - Reconfiguring epistemic quality and the reconstitution of epistemic authority