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Social studies of volcanology: knowledge generation and expert advice on active volcanoes


This paper examines the philosophy and evolution of volcanological science in recent years, particularly in relation to the growth of volcanic hazard and risk science. It uses the lens of Science and Technology Studies to examine the ways in which knowledge generation is controlled and directed by social forces, particularly during eruptions, which constitute landmarks in the development of new technologies and models. It also presents data from a survey of volcanologists carried out during late 2008 and early 2009. These data concern the felt purpose of the science according to the volcanologists who participated and their impressions of the most important eruptions in historical time. It demonstrates that volcanologists are motivated both by the academic science environment and by a social concern for managing the impact of volcanic hazards on populations. Also discussed are the eruptions that have most influenced the discipline and the role of scientists in policymaking on active volcanoes. Expertise in volcanology can become the primary driver of public policy very suddenly when a volcano erupts, placing immense pressure on volcanologists. In response, the epistemological foundations of volcanology are on the move, with an increasing volume of research into risk assessment and management. This requires new, integrated methodologies for knowledge collection that transcend scientific disciplinary boundaries.

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AD acknowledges a NERC-ESRC PhD studentship. The authors would like to thank Chris Newhall and Augusto Neri for very thorough and helpful reviews, which significantly improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Amy Donovan.

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Editorial responsibility: H. Delgado Granados

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Donovan, A., Oppenheimer, C. & Bravo, M. Social studies of volcanology: knowledge generation and expert advice on active volcanoes. Bull Volcanol 74, 677–689 (2012).

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  • Social science
  • Hazards
  • Risk
  • Expertise
  • Advice
  • Volcanology
  • Science Studies