Science and Technology Studies


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UCL STS Seminar series: Julia Sánchez-Dorado

13 March 2024, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

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UCL STS Seminar series : A few barrels of sand shipped from the river to the model’: Revisiting the model materiality debate

This event is free.

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UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


IOE- John Adams Hall
14, 15–23 Endsleigh Street, London


This paper revisits the debate of how the materiality of models determines their epistemic status as scientific artifacts. While some philosophers of science have argued that there is an epistemic privilege in the inferences made from experiments and physical models made of “the same stuff” as the objects in the world investigated (Morgan 2005; Guala 2002), others contend –with the advancement of numerical simulation in mind– that it is relevant similarity and not material correspondence that ultimately matters in the justification of inferences about a target system (Parker 2009; Parke 2014). What this debate misses is an iHPS exploration of how actual scientific communities spell out the relevance of model materiality in their practices, most often not in terms of the justification of inferences but of the peculiar learning process afforded by the haptic, visual entry to a phenomenon facilitated by physical models. I look at the historical development of hydraulic research in the U.S. between the 1920s-1940s as a case in point. Physical scale models were built in those decades to address river-training problems, partly following and partly breaking with physical river modelling techniques previously developed at European institutions. The material character of those models constituted a central aspect in the disagreement within the hydraulic research community regarding the value of this new methodology. 

About the Speaker

Julia Sánchez-Dorado

Philosophy of Science / History of Science / Aesthetics at University of Sevilla (Spain) and ICI Berlin (Germany)

More about Julia Sánchez-Dorado