Epistemological Consequences of a Global Encounter: The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 49
Oral Presentation
Matthias DULLER , Department of Sociology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg near Vienna is a remarkable example of a transnational scientific organization due to the political circumstances of its foundation during the Cold War, its institutional setting as a meeting place for scientists with different national and political backgrounds, and its research into some of the most pressing issues of global change.

First proposed by US-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 as part of his 'bridge building' initiatives between the USSR and the USA, the institute's rationale was both political, in hoping to foster rapprochement between the blocs by organizing cooperative research into common problems of the industrialized nations and scientific, in that solutions to large-scale global problems shall be facilitated which cannot be achieved by either of the sides alone.

The IIASA-Charter was eventually signed by representatives from twelve member countries from East and West in October 1972, establishing IIASA as a non-governmental research institute, where scientists from all member states worked together in applied research projects. Within the methodological framework of systems analysis, research problems included questions of the environmental dangers of the modernization process, population growth, urban planning, energy production and water resources, thus being inherently interdisciplinary and global in scope.

The paper builds upon a thick contextualization of IIASA to explain the methodological changes, systems analysis has seen as a consequence of its internationalization. These changes are marked by a gradual, and in retrospect dramatic increase of 'soft' social science perspectives and an ever growing skepticism towards the formerly strong positivistic epistemology in systems analysis. Though primarily concerned with the case of IIASA, this effect of internationalization shall be underlined by drawing comparisons with earlier US-American versions of systems analysis as well as other international research contexts like that of area studies.