Performing and Governing the Future in Science and Technology

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Kornelia Konrad, Harro van Lente, Christopher Groves, Cynthia Selin

Introduction

The practices of science and technology are saturated with expectations, promises, and prospective claims. Scientists “have the future in their bones” as C. P. Snow (1964, 17) phrased it fifty years ago in his famous essay about the Two Cultures. The performative force of such claims and promises has been studied in various traditions, in science and technology studies (STS) and elsewhere. Rather than being reducible to merely descriptive statements of what may or may not happen in the future, expectations, visions, scenarios, and other forms of anticipation affect what may actually happen. They are performative. Promises and concerns around technologies in the making mobilize and legitimate the activities of scientists, innovators, policymakers, and regulators, along with NGOs and other societal actors. In broader societal discourses, expectations of scientific progress are enduring components of “grand challenges” narratives, buttressing arguments about how science and technology are supposed to address the wicked problems of the twenty-first century.

In this chapter we present a review of STS (and closely related) research on future-oriented representations and anticipatory practices. While STS as a field has looked at the future through a number of different lenses, in this chapter we hone in on concepts that circulate in inquiries related to the study of expectations, sociotechnical imaginaries, and the sociology of time, and relay how these concepts are operationalized in relation to the governance of emerging technologies.

In doing so, we will link and synthesize research addressing these themes at different degrees of resolution. We start with studies which are predominantly concerned with understanding the performativity and shaping of expectations in science and technology building on concrete empirical cases. Then we review how such dynamics are embedded in broader, historically contingent modes of future orientation that characterize cultures and societies. We next move to investigate cases of anticipatory practices where the future is intentionally utilized by STS scholars who seek to intervene in the governance of science and technology. Through this threefold exercise, we will bring together various strands of literature in and close to STS that have emerged over 

the last ten to fifteen years, in particular work related to the sociology of expectations, sociotechnical imaginaries, the role of the future in social theories of time, and anticipatory governance. The future in STS, we conclude, is a fertile ground for theoretical, empirical, and practical work on performativity, temporality, and anticipation.


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Performing and Governing the Future in Science and Technology
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