Earthquakes in the twenty-first century are still relatively mysterious. If prediction is the sine qua non of the physical sciences, or at least their intended destination, seismology would rank among the least successful of all modern scientific projects. The difficulty of knowing earthquakes, and the high stakes involved in not knowing enough, have even caused some seismologists to declare aspects of their subject unknowable, and edit their research accordingly. Yet the market for earthquake knowledge is so strong that actors from other scientific disciplines have begun trying to fill the gap with new technologies, theories, and models. My talk will look at how both historic and contemporary groups of earthquake scientists have navigated this crisis at the center of their practice, drawing particularly from the example of Japan. Japan was the first nation to institutionalize earthquake prediction as an officially-sanctioned and funded role of government, yet its tragic relationship with destructive earthquakes has continued almost unmitigated into the current century. I will explore how seismic knowledge has been declared, displayed, deployed, and denied, and how resources—devices, skills, infrastructures, and political agendas—have been productive of these several strategies.
Please see further information about the lecture series here.