Models in Action: Realising Abstractions

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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This thesis is about mathematical modelling and technology development. While
mathematical modelling has become widely deployed within a broad range of
scientific practices, it has also gained a central position within technology development. The intersection of mathematical modelling and technology
development is especially interesting because of its increasing role in applying
scientific theoretical knowledge to concrete societal problems, and even more so,
because it is a relatively little studied practice. Based on a multi-sited ethnographic study of an industrial energy-efficiency project, this thesis presents an analysis of the central practices that materialised representative physical modelling and implemented operational regulation models. In order to show how the project’s representative modelling and technology development connected physical theory with concrete problems through different material mediations, the thesis draws on the notion of representation as used within science and technology studies to trace how the project translated between the various states of re-presentative mediations.
The first four chapters introduce the scope of the study and its wider
theoretical outset, the existing literature on simulation models, and the study’s
methodological and empirical approach. The purpose of this thesis is to describe the central practices that developed regulation technology for industrial production processes and to analyse how mathematical modelling contributed to this development. Because the variation between these practices spanned from work with physical theory to practical hands-on work with machines at operational production sites, the thesis aims to capture how these diverse practices operated and connected by closely following how they transformed and distributed knowledge artefacts.
Chapter 5 to 7 unfolds the empirical study structured as an investigation of
two opposite processes that occurred simultaneously; one that “abstracted” the
production machinery into theoretical physics (Chapter 5 and 6), and one that
“concretised” theories onto the production machinery (Chapter 7). Mathematical
models are especially interesting in this technology developing setup since they
formed a significant part of both the processes that abstracted machinery and the
processes that concretised theory and filled an important role in the coordination
between these two opposite processes. By following each stage in both opposite
processes, I seek to extend the existing comprehension of models’ technological and epistemological dimensions by describing the different material states the models went through from machine to theory and back again to the machine.
Chapter 8 analyses and discusses the different effects that were generated by
implementing the regulation model technology onto their target environments. The
thesis results in a discussion of what kinds of displacement effects these novel
technological solutions can be recognised to have generated. Structured around the intersections of certainty, agency, and dependences, the thesis’ findings are in chapter 9 extended to a discussion of the theoretical fundament through which we interpret the regulation project and its use of modelling. I demonstrate a novel framework that I term prescriptive application. Chapter 10 summarises and concludes on the recognitions that are drawn from the study.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherAalborg Universitetsforlag
Number of pages194
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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