AGENDA ITEM (questions, comments, ideas, screeds,  manifestos, etc.)
General Comments:


The image on the cover makes it seem that the water towers contain a functional role in the canal systems in addition to the symbolic role described by Lansing.  From my understanding they do not actually touch water (perhaps the image on the cover is just canal system?)  It was a bit of a let-down that they are not overlapping systems and I was misled by the image on the cover.  In fact, the entire book could benefit from some better imagery to document the structures, terraces, etc.  The diagrams of the subak systems are also extremely primitive and as visual tools for explanation hardly convey the interdependencies described in the book. 

Helmreich raises an important point: how many variables are necessary before a computational representation (or experiment for that matter) can be considered valid?  I would argue that in this case the variables are a bit reductive but the influence of WWII (suggested to be included by Helmreich) might be limited in the scope of what Lansing is trying to effectively communicate regarding irrigation.


Helmreich vs Lansing, Lansing ch6
I'm sympathetic to some of Helmreich's criticisms of Lansing, even if I think they are a bit misdirected/overread.  Biological vs industrial time, for instance:  I think Lansing really means agricultural time, as the basic form of many calindrical systems, and calling it "biological time" naturalizes it more than the rest of that chapter indicates it should be. 

(By the way, it's interesting to be writing this on such a fertility-symbol heavy, calindrically complicated holiday as Easter)

But even though I think Helmreich's critique of the simulation is more about his work on the talismanic fascination of emergent complexity and computer simulation for mathematically minded Westerners than it is about Lansing's book, like Keith I wondered about the limitations of the modelling compared to the qualitative parts of Priests and Programmers. 

Little of what we see in chapter 6 is as useful for understanding the system as the previous 2 or 3 chapters, and it seems to reduce this active process of religious/social/political interactions to something like "people can figure technically difficult stuff out, even without knowing every piece of relevant data".  But what's interesting about that is that Lansing mentions multiple times that without the simulations he would not have understood the system -- placing it at then end is somewhat puzzling.  Am I missing where it fits in earlier, or is this a difficulty with the book as written?
Helmreich's critique of Lansing's simulation models raises important questions as researchers increasingly use simulation programs as a testing tool for experiments. How can one incorporate multiple social variables / scenarios to test the tool's viability?  I would have liked to see Lansing's assessment of preceding simulation analysis -- what types of simulated environments worked and what didn't, and how his proves successful in comparison.
As I continue to use simulations as testbeds in my PhD research, I also agree with Helmreich in that simulation programs are embedded with bias, criteria and measurement standards of its authors.  One must be careful of what is graphically represented and how multiple cultures read into these visual cues... Not all viewers understand the symbolism and (western) language embedded within the simulations.  The question is: who is the audience and how were the graphics / symbols / language chosen based on the audience?

It is fairly ironic really…Helmreich accuses Lansing of erasing culture, history, etc in his model….at the same time Helmreich seems to erase all of the bottom up features of Lansing’s work in order to fit it into his “model” of critique against chaos researchers.

Also, is Lansing's work any inspiration in the "design tools?"

In what sense does Lansing's description of Water temple in Bali impair/weaken Marx's argument (humanized nature, linear progressive history, and economic infrastructure determines superstructure)? What had Marx said about the symbolic function of religion?
Kristin General

I side with Helmreich’s critique that “When cultural and natural systems are collapsed into a common language of adaptation and evolution, and when they are modeled using identical methods of computer simulation, we must be careful not to lose sight of the social histories and processes that get washed under these practices and technologies of representation” (261).


Yet, Lansing spends time in his book on diagnosis of the Balinese culture. I think that only in this isolated context of his book, can the simulation be accepted as a useful tool for visualizing and analyzing the water management information.  

I am skeptical of Helmrich's critique: while I agree that a model may over simplify the "social reality" it seems the 1. no model of any kind could ever satisfy Helmrich's critique and also 2. I think that the model itself does not stand alone - there is much social analysis included as the models accompany this book and many articles (i think). Does that make any sense?
I enjoyed Lansing's description of the self-organized water temples and the contrast to the Dutch colonizers (sp?) imposed kingships.  My only comment is that I would have enjoyed a more detailed description of some of the religious practices and what the Balinese people thought about them (i.e. the interview clips that Lansing used showed that the religious leaders in the subaks were very aware of the inherent self-organization of the system but were individual farmers?)

My comment corresponds to Chapter 11 of Nader's Naked Science, where the fishermen were very aware of nature as chaotic system instead of linear system, with small perturbations (small amounts of fishing, changes in weather patterns, changes in water chemistry from pollution) have unique and interesting effects that are largely unpredictable on a short time scale but in a pattern on a large time scale.

How can a computer-model that explores "how a bottom-up irrigation management can function in the absence of hierarchical control" be considered a threat for abuse by those in control? Isn't the simulation demonstrating otherwise? I have heard this critique before - that essentially any Western technology used in development (with its intrinsic Western embedded memes) smacks of neocolonialism and can be co-opted by those in power.

Although Lansing's simulation is not part of a "development" project, I see some similarities. My recent readings in ICT4D indicate a shift over the last decade toward bottom-up Multi-Stakeholder Participation development practices.
To Mark
The first step to co-opting something is understanding it.  The reason why the Dutch didn't co-opt the water temples was because they put them in the category of religion and therefore thought they couldn't have any practical purpose.  I think that if they would have understood how the system worked, they would have been able to influence the system of irrigation and the population more than they did.
Politics of Self Organization and Lansing's critique of Marx
I appreciate Lansing's description of how this self-organizing system can be a basis of resistance, although I wonder about the political limitations of such a tactic. It would be interesting to get Lansing's critique not only Marx's writings on Asia and colonialism but also the writings on political strategy which are inextricably bound up with Marx's opposition to self-organization.

For example, the dictatorship of the proletariat doesn't appear in the Communist Manifesto, but only in the 1850s, in the wake of post-1848 counter-revolutionary terror, and become more importance after the carnage in Paris in 1871.

I understand that self organization is an important political and ethical tool, but I wonder if it doesn't run into problems when faced with the most bare, repressive, and violent type of state responses. Lansing seems to acknowledge this in a way when he says that this research could not have been published under Suharto.