Accepted paper:

When the eye meets the ground. The temporality of surfaces in the study of the past.


Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

Sciences that excavate the past tend to conceptualize time vertically. By looking at the history of science I show how this view has been adopted by many disciplines outside the geosciences, providing them with an enclosed understanding of knowledge and a conceptual foundation for academic debate.

Paper long abstract:

Important sciences conceptualize the study of the past as an exploration that removes surfaces downwardly. These sciences tend to conceptualize time vertically as a sequence of layers accumulated from bottom to top. Common not only in the geosciences but adopted throughout the 20th century by the social sciences and the humanities, this view has worked as a conceptual foundation for important academic debates in the study of knowledge. Drawing on recent ethnographic work with scientists that excavate the past and on the analysis of the development of the visual language of disciplines that adopted a stratigraphic view of time, I trace some key debates in the history of science showing how the understanding of knowledge got enclosed by surfaces, providing a frame for the discussion of rival approaches. In doing so, I show how recent debates in different fields have attempted to render the vertical view of time horizontal by bringing knowledge back to the surface. Even though this has proved fruitful for challenging the authority of science, it risks missing the particularities of how different disciplines engage with their environments.

panel WMW12
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body