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Virtually Expert: Modes of Environmental Computer Simulation Modeling

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2014

Catharina Landström
School of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxford, United Kingdom E-mail:
Sarah J. Whatmore
School of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxford, United Kingdom E-mail:


This paper challenges three assumptions common in the literature on expertise: that expertise is linearly derived from scientific knowledge; that experts always align with the established institutional order; and that expertise is a property acquired by individuals. We criticize these ideas by juxtaposing three distinct expert practices involved with flood risk management in England. Virtual engineering is associated with commercial consultancy and relies on standardized software packages to assess local flood inundation. Mathematical experimentation refers to academic scientists creating new digital renderings of the physical dynamics of flooding. Participatory modeling denotes research projects that aim to transform the relationships between experts and local communities. Focusing on different modes of modeling we contribute an analysis of how particular models articulate with specific politics of knowledge as experts form relationships with flood risk management actors. Our empirical study also shows how models can contribute to re-distribution of expertise in local flood risk management.

Topical Section: Models at Work – Models in Decision Making
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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