CFP: “Modeling Spaces – Modifying Societies”

Conference organized by the graduate program Topology of Technology of the Darmstadt University of Technology

To be held at the Fraunhofer IGD, Darmstadt, Germany, 7 – 9 October, 2009

Phenomena recognized as spatial arrangements are complex—thus we need tools to cope with them. Models can serve as tools for researchers and practitioners alike. There are two distinct yet interwoven aspects of models, both of which will be addressed by this conference: models as analytical devices and models as a reference for intervention. Models and other forms of abstract representations are generated to organize findings and to simulate options. In decision-making processes models have  an enormous impact in that they provide guidelines for implementations as well as legitimation in situations of conflict, even though they are also increasingly understood as constructions.

Out of the great variety of spatial phenomena, climatology is a good example to show how models are constructed and affect society. They are used to analyze spatial patterns theoretically as well as to legitimize intervention in the political sphere. Global climate models are approximations of complex physical processes and enable researchers to simulate the climate system. The General Circulation Model allows predictions of various scenarios. Such
scientifically-based statements simplified the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. They increased public awareness and led to a growing market for renewable energy. Similarly, the case of modernist urban planning highlights how the analysis of problems was recast in plans for action. Population densities and the variety of space usages in the industrializing cities were perceived as the root of various social deficiencies. Subsequently, abstract models based on the ideals of dispersion and the separation of functions shaped cities throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Both examples show that the status of models depends significantly on the contexts in which they are developed and employed. First, the nature of any model is determined by the goal to be achieved; modeling is always designed to serve a particular aim and can take on many forms. Still, the applicability of models is related to the specific conditions under which they are designed, proposed and tested—therefore, the transfer of a model from one area to another is not always justified. And, furthermore, the way in which models are perceived often endows them with considerable normative power. Is it perhaps the case that model-building in research and society are deeply problematic in that such abstractions may develop into self-fulfilling prophecies? Moreover, models govern planning and simulation, processes which are in many ways interwoven with model-building. Hence, models do not only provide systematized information, but are also explicitly directed at the future.

While it is beyond doubt that models create instrumental knowledge, the distinctive spatial dimension of models is open to discussion. Are there specific ways of modeling three-dimensional spaces, for example particular forms of visualization? Do spatial arrangements offer specific kinds of information for analysis and intervention—as is probably the case in logistics and architecture? Is a model more forceful if it refers to certain localities, because attachment to place gives rise to a feeling of involvement or concern—as in the rapidly growing interest in Geographical Information Systems (GIS)? Or is the spatial distribution of researchers and practitioners themselves an issue that reflects on model building?

This conference aims to increase our understanding of the power and limitations of models, their construction and effects in the sciences and in fields of practice. It provides a forum for the discussion of qualitative and quantitative models composed of verbal propositions, numerical abstractions, and visualizations. Of particular interest are issues that cut across established scientific disciplines and analyze the boundaries between science, technology, society, and politics. A preliminary list of subject areas comprises:
– architecture and social work
– urban planning and policies
– system sciences and management
– the history and future of infrastructures
– sustainability science and resources management
– climate science and emission regulations
– geography (incl. GIS and GPS and their commercial application)
– behavioral sciences and human health
– philosophy, ethics and spatial order

The conference explicitly aims at bringing scientists and practitioners from outside the academy together. To simplify discussion and the exchange of information and experience, plenary speeches will be complemented by smaller workshop-like sessions. Keynote speeches will be held by:
– Paul N. Edwards (University of Michigan): “Versions of the Atmosphere: Climate Models, Data Models, Global Space and Time”
– Amy Hillier (University of Pennsylvania): “Mapping Social Patterns: The Making and Unmaking of Inequality”
– Roland Scholz (ETH Zürich): “Transdisciplinarity, System Sciences, and Prospective Modeling in Regional Transformation”
– Oskar von Stryk (TU Darmstadt): “Models and Simulation in Engineering: Dynamics of Motion and Robot Intelligence”

The conference is organized by the graduate program Topology of Technology of Darmstadt University of Technology and is financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The interdisciplinary graduate program focuses on the interdependencies of technology and space.

The conference will take place at the Fraunhofer IGD, Darmstadt, Germany, 7–9 October, 2009. Darmstadt is situated 30 kilometers south of Frankfurt am Main.

We invite proposals that include an abstract of no more than 2,000 characters and a brief CV. Deadline for submission is May 31, 2009. Proposals should be submitted to the conference website at Applicants can expect approval by July 15. The final program will be advertised in the second half of July.

Accommodation will be provided for accepted presenters and their traveling costs will be covered up to 150€ for participants from Germany, 300€ for participants from within Europe and 600€ for international participants. The conference fee amounts to 130€ (applications for a fee waiver may be filed).

For further information please visit our website at:

Professor Mikael Hård
Dept. of History
Darmstadt University of Technology
D-64283 Darmstadt

Phone: +49 6151-163097
Fax.: +49 6151-163992