Situating and Understanding Global Delta-knowledge Networks in Relation to Other Global Knowledge Networks, 2016-2019


The project starting point was the realisation that the rules of the game for producing effective and authoritative environmental knowledge and technologies are radically different today as compared to the past. For instance, the green turn (Disco 2002) has led to a radical re-appraisal and re-definition of environmental problems and solutions, and has produced serious challenges to established ways of understanding (and dealing with) society–nature interactions as well as the kinds of information, data and knowledge used to inform decisions. Therefore, the kinds of data collected for the project were defined by a research design following a mixed-methods approach drawing mainly from social anthropology, social network methods, and policy analysis. The design followed an epistemological position of pragmatism. The research design also departs from the general interest in studying social practices, organisations and networks. This research applied an interdisciplinary focus to contexts, situations and actions which inform antecedent conditions. The situations of inquiry grounded the research strategy as well as the kinds of data collected. Data was gathered from observational and open interviews in combination with desktop research, social network analysis and policy analysis throughout the duration of the project. Ethnographic observations and interviews: For the given period, the interviews concern European and Asian experts, working at such institutes as the UK Met Office, working on climate models, but also on international organisations conducting technology transfer activities and hydrological technology transfer from one context to another (including in The Netherlands, Denmark, Thailand and Myanmar. The purpose of the interviews was to get an understanding of how these models are set up, what their history of development is, and most importantly, how they are disseminated to the South-East Asia. Secondary data: Data was collected during fieldwork and subsequently applying desktop research. The documentation was classified according to themes and coded to trace expert knowledge, and narratives of expert assessments contained in the reports analysed. The data contains text and documents coded and analysed in Nvivo, including reports, publications and other types of grey literature. Social Network Data for Analysis: We applied qualitative methods of coding, analysis and interpretation of data from the interviews, participant observation and field notes. Secondly, we combined the interview data with secondary data (e.g., government reports, project reports and MoUs), policy analysis (e.g., policy problems, stakeholders, institutional frameworks and uncertainties) and social network analysis (e.g., identifying connections, measuring centrality and selecting a cluster for further analysis). Accordingly, the descriptions of interactions between organisations and events served to map a global network with which to identify activities and evaluate the performance and behaviour of such connections. Notably, we paid attention to organisations with an active presence in Thailand and Myanmar dealing with climate and hydrological modelling and conducted Social Network Analysis using three measures of network centrality: Closeness centrality, Betweenness centrality and Eigenvector centrality. Centrality is a measure of the information about the relative importance of nodes and edges in a graph. Centrality measures the number of links incident on a node and is used to identify nodes that have the highest number of connections in the network. High degree centrality represents a crucial role in the information flow and cohesiveness of the network; thus, such nodes are considered central to the network due to their role in the flow of information. Using a total network of 198 organisations identified and added to the dataset for analysis.This project innovatively combined science and technology studies (STS) with the anthropology of development to interrogate how uncertainties are understood and dealt with in environmental planning. We used deltas in South and Southeast Asia as our research object. These deltas are dynamic and densely populated environments typified by agricultural intensification, rapid urbanisation and vulnerability to climate change. Recognition of multiple (definitions of) deltas informs the main project hypothesis: much delta knowledge used in the South comes from specific epistemic communities, whose knowledge travels through and because of global development-cooperation networks. We traced these networks and travels through space and time to critically examined how delta knowledges are generated and gain authority, and their hybridisation with 'local' knowledge and governance practices. We did this for four deltas with diverging cultural and historical trajectories and contemporary dynamics: the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Mekong serve as contrasting reference against which the Chao Phraya and the Irrawaddy were studied in greater detail. Engaging with contemporary debates in STS, the analysis has been used to re-consideration expertise and experts' role in dealing with uncertainties. This in turn informs the formulation of guiding principles for productive and responsible ways of environmental knowing and planning at different scales through a variety of knowledge outputs and publications.

The methodology of the project as a whole was explicitly interdisciplinary, in its ambition to contribute to the development of conceptual as well as methodological approaches for rethinking the role of globalising experts and expertise in dealing with complex and dynamic nature/cultures and related uncertainties. The project favoured a creative research design with multiple methods of inquiry, each able to capture different aspects of the cases studied. Together these helped to make explicit and interrogate existing, and formulate new, proposals for developing knowledge suitable for dealing with environmental uncertainties. Methodologies included network analysis, case studies of circulation of technologies and knowledge artefacts, professional life histories, and participatory modelling. In our methodological approach, we acknowledge that the researchers’ (that is, our own) contexts matter too. Hence, the research methods employed were not considered simply to represent reality ‘out there’. The research team represented an exciting mix of disciplinary backgrounds, and we intended to make use of this in the overall project. The integration of the results was ensured by sharing similar (but not identical) theoretical starting points, by focusing on a similar ‘web’ of study objects (people, discourses/ideas, models/technologies, land and water management practices) and by collaborating in all work packages. The joint focus on four deltas – and having part of our team there on the ground – allowed for a systematic comparison between them, while also contributing to a high level of integration. The Sample size was limited on the basis of two criteria: understanding and feasibility. First, the researchers expected elucidation on the topic he/she/they researched in this period to have decreasing pay-offs; the claims involved none that require a large-n study. Second, the researchers expected it infeasible, even if it were useful, in setting more interviews, transcribing the results and obtaining novel questions from these results. All respondents were professional experts representing their organisation. The recruitment process followed a snowball method. The researchers used an entry-point and then asked the experts for other relevant contacts, who were subsequently contacted via email. For example, the Met Office was contacted to develop a Climate Model of interest. The Met Office then offered two experts to speak about the model. These experts will then be asked who else is relevant as a participant in the study during the interview. In the email, the researchers introduced themselves as members of a larger team involved in studying the travel of expertise from Europe to SE-Asia. A formal interview request was made, which could be declined or accepted. If accepted, a follow-up mail was sent to settle whether the interview was to take place: in person or via phone, to determine the date and the time. The applicant researcher will begin any agreed to interview with the statement that the respondent can stop the interview at any point if so wished.

Metadata Access
Creator Petersen, A, University College London; Somavilla Croxatto, L, University College London; Hogendoorn, D, University College London
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2021
Funding Reference Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Rights Arthur Caesar Petersen, University College London. Lucas Somavilla Croxatto, University College London; The Data Collection is available to any user without the requirement for registration for download/access.
OpenAccess true
Resource Type Numeric; Text; Software; Interactive resource; Other
Discipline Economics; History; Humanities; Social and Behavioural Sciences
Spatial Coverage Myanmar; United Kingdom; Thailand; Netherlands; Denmark