Professor Barker’s research focuses on the problems of understanding and managing complex adaptive systems, from organisms to social-ecological systems—how they interact across scales to produce or disrupt resilient functioning; how to evaluate their functioning; and how to intervene in it ethically and effectively. The theoretical framework she employs combines ideas from ecology, complex systems theory, and classical control theory.
Climate change is usually seen through a mechanistic lens, one that focuses attention on a few main physical processes and the human use of actual machines, abstracting away from features of Earth systems that are foregrounded by the value- and agent-oriented perspectives characteristic of more organic conceptions of Earth in ecology and traditional ecological knowledge. Finding better ways to integrate functional and agentic thinking into our understanding of the climate crisis can help us to avoid predictable and consequential errors in assessing both risks and positive possibilities. Recent work in philosophy of biology and philosophy of ecology offers conceptual tools for thinking about global-scale functions and the role of non-human and human agents in earth systems.