Lay Observers, Telegraph Lines, and Kansas Weather: The Field Network as a Mode of Knowledge Production

Science in Context 24 (2):259-280 (2011)
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Abstract

ArgumentThis paper examines the field network – linking together lay observers in geographically distributed locations with a central figure who aggregated their locally produced observations into more general, regional knowledge – as a historically emergent mode of knowledge production. After discussing the significance of weather knowledge as a vital domain in which field networks have operated, it describes and analyzes how a more robust and systematized weather observing field network became established and maintained on the ground in the early twentieth century. This case study, which examines two Kansas City-based local observer networks supervised by the same U.S. Weather Bureau office, demonstrates some of the key issues involved in maintaining field networks, such as the role of communications infrastructure, especially the telegraph, the procedures designed to make local observation more systematic and uniform, and the centralized, hierarchical power relations that underpinned even a low-status example of knowledge production on the periphery.

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