This section addresses the futures of technoscience in two parts. Firstly, it introduces the expanding theoretical literature on the sociology of expectations and the role of hope and hype. Secondly, it presents three papers which develop analyses of the spatial and temporal roles of visions, imaginaries and expectations in contemporary technoscience. While much discussion of technological development focusses on the temporal and discursive aspects of imaginaries, spatial imaginaries are also performative in the constitution of current technoscience (Massey, 1999). As Castree points out, imagined geographies are not simply ‘reflections’ of worldly phenomena, but instead are “actively manufactured and have a constitutive role to play in how we see ourselves and others”(Castree, 2004). For example, Dorothy Nelkin and others pointed out the way in which mapping metaphors presented constitutive visions of the Human Genome Project (Lippman, 1992; Nelkin, 2001, Hall, 2003).
These spatial imaginaries serve to support the promise of technoscience, for example in telemedicine or telework (Rappert and Brown, 2000; Geels & Smit 2000). Information technologies often embody utopian visions of the ‘global’, in which technology shrinks distance and brings humanity closer together, bridging the ‘digital divide’ while forgetting that this divide is a moving target (Bowker, 2008). The global nature of technoscientific futures is also addressed in work by Brian Salter and others examining the moral and ethical questions involved in the globalisation of stem cell research (Salter et al., 2007; Bio-Net). Stem cells, information technologies and genetically modified organisms equally draw attention to the ways in which futures can be non-discursive, material and embodied (Adam 1998; Wainwright et al., 2006; Bingham, 2008).
The role of technological visions is expanded in the first paper in this section, Brown and Michael’s “Retrospecting Prospects and Prospecting Retrospects”. Here they lay out the basis for a ‘sociology of expectations’, which shifts analysis from looking ‘into the future’ to looking at’ the future. They focus on the role expectations have played in the Life Sciences, and develop a model of ‘retrospecting prospects’- examining how the future differs from past representations of it - and ‘prospecting retrospects’ - the redeployment of memories of past futures in the construction of new ones. These twin processes situate actors’ orientation to the future and the past. Claims about the future potential of technologies are at their strongest when uncertainty about the future of the technology is greatest; these then serve to marshall support and establish particular visions.
Imaginaries or visions thus ‘mobilise’ the future into the present through the deployment of hope, expectation and anticipation (Anderson, 2007; Brown, 2003). In the second of the papers presented here, Ben Anderson describes how ‘hope’ operates beneath its perfomative or constitutive effects. While the sociology of expectations emphasises how futures and promises can become forceful and locked-in to technological development, Anderson points to the indeterminancy of futures entailed within ‘becoming and being hopeful’. Such is the point that Braun (2005) takes from Whatmore’s ‘hopeful’ Hybrid Geographies (2004), in which “contemporary forms of political and economic organization are seen to be precarious achievements, not immutable forms”.
The consequences of hope and the indeterminacy of future social and poitical forms, combined with the performative role of expectations, leads us to consider empirical examples of technoscience. Here, the papers by van Lente and Rip, Nordmann, Cooper and Demeritt head in four different and productive directions, addressing the differing ways in which particular imaginaries of the future forms and spaces of technoscience are marshalled in the present.
In their classic paper outlining the operation of expectations of membrane technology, Rip and van Lente employ the idea of ‘rhetorical’ space to describe a privileged place for voicing promises about new science and technology which seek to mobilise relevant audiences. Unlike some of the other spaces discussed in locating technoscience, this space cannot be pointed at or measured, but instead shapes action, enables and constrains.
In his discussion of nanotechnoscience, Alfred Nordmann uses a more material notion of spatiality to link nanoscience with imaginaries of exploration. He describes its quest “to inhabit inner space somewhat as we have begun to inhabit outer space and certainly has we have conquered the wilderness” (2004: 51). As Anderson et al. (2007) suggest elsewhere, “the attempt to make knowable the space of the nanoscale is necessarily a geographical enterprise [in which] the futurity and colonial spatiality of nanoscale research are folded in upon each other”. In this article, Nordmann describes how nanotechnoscience becomes a geographical project, which both capitalizes on and enacts novel properties of space at the nanoscale (Nordmann, 2004; Anderson et al., 2007), novel properties which are paralleled by novel challenges for governance (Wilsdon et al., 2006).
As Kearnes (2006) describes, nanotechnology is characterised by a concern with ‘emergence’, the unpredictable properties of complex systems. This also forms a key question for Melinda Cooper. In , in her paper, Cooper discusses the way in which uncertain futures are characterised by ‘catastrophe risks’ such as bioterrorism, infectious diseases, biotechnological accidents and climate change. These catastrophes are emergent and unpredictable. She characterises two responses, one based around precaution, as in European responses to genetically modified crops, and one based on pre-emption, which has come to form the heart of neoconservative US policy and legitimises the waging of war through a never-ending anticipative response to emerging threats.
Cooper considers how with the development of ‘emergence’ as a key concept in both microbiological and military planning, the affective valence’ of the future has been transformed from one of euphoria to one of fear or alertness in which the future is generated by our anticipation or speculation. As Massumi comments, “[t]he uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event. There is always a remainder of uncertainty, an unconsummated surplus of danger. The present is shadowed by a remaindered surplus of indeterminate potential for a next event running forward back to the future, self-renewing” (in press, p.2)
Cooper’s discussion of ‘catastrophe risks’ involves discussion of climate change, and the way in which some within and without the Bush administration have advocated pre-emptive ‘biosphere’ responses to the ‘emerging threat’ of global warming. The final paper in this section, that by David Demeritt, addresses the consequences of climate change futures for critical social science. He examines how science studies and conservative attacks on climate change science often draw on similar epistemic resources in highlighting the difficulties of establishing global climate change as a ‘potential future’.
Demeritt suggests that the example of climate change demonstrates the difficulties in distinguishing ’sound science’ from value-laden and political ‘lay’ concerns. In examining the ways in which these difficulties have been faced by Beck, Latour and Collins and Evans, Demeritt lays out some of the key questions for the future development of studies which ‘locate technoscience’ and which attempt to build on the science studies project of critical investigation of scientific knowledge claims while retaining an ability to be equally critical of the politicisation of scientific futures. As he concludes, “once we acknowledge that the ‘the operative question is how to distinguish between good constructions and bad’ (Latour 2004b: 459), it becomes possible to recognize that the commitment to reasonableness, honesty, and open deliberation is as important for our politics as for our science.”
This section finishes by looking to the future itself. It is obviously impossible to anticipate the direction of research examining the geographies of technoscience. As such we provide links to the locations in virtual space where this future is being constituted. These represent a heterogenous cluster of blogs, think tanks, academic and non-academic institutions, the diversity of which represents the richness of the research field.
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Brown, N. and Michael, M. (2003). ‘A sociology of expectations: Retrospecting prospects and prospecting retrospects‘ Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 15(1):3-18 Freely available PDF
Anderson, B (2006) ‘Becoming and being hopeful: towards a theory of affect‘ Environment and Planning D 35: 733–52
van Lente, H. and Rip, A (1998). `The Rise of Membrane Technology: From Rhetorics to Social Reality’. Social Studies of Science 28 (2): 221-254
Nordmann, A. (2004) ‘Molecular disjunctions: staking claims at the nanoscale‘ in Baird D, Nordmann A and Schummer J (eds) Discovering the nanoscale (IOS Press, Amsterdam): 51–62 Freely available PDF
Cooper, M. (2006). `Pre-empting Emergence: The Biological Turn in the War on Terror’. Theory Culture and Society 23(4):113-135.
Demeritt, D. (2006). `Science studies, climate change and the prospects for constructivist critique’. Economy and Society 35(3):453-479 Freely available PDF
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Constituting the Future of Technoscience - Links]]>
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Selected Further Readings
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The network is described there thus:
Scientific knowledge is central to the constitution of contemporary societies. Much political debate and action pivots on competing versions of the appropriate role for science. The institutional sites at which these conflicts play out are wide ranging, including academia, government, business, civil society, publics and social movements. There has been considerable research in fields as diverse as politics, philosophy, economics, cultural studies and science and technological studies on the social dimensions of science and technology.
However, there is scope for greater attention to be paid to explicitly geographical questions about the relationships between science, technology and politics. The ‘geographies of science’ are of growing interest and significance in the UK.
It is in this context that we propose a research network to support the burgeoning community of scholars working from a variety of geographical perspectives on political aspects of science and technology. The network seeks to include people engaged in collaborative research on environmental issues; historical geography; studies of the role of knowledge in constituting and governing everyday life; research on science and technology policy; public understandings of emerging technologies; and much more.
The network will be built around an annual meeting at which members will present work-in-progress. The aim is to foster an environment of exchange and learning across different geographical approaches and projects. The tone will be conversational and supportive, and we hope that the network will be particularly attractive to advanced graduate students and early-career academics.]]>
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In this article I discuss just why travel takes place. Why does travel occur, especially with the development of new communications technologies? I unpack how corporeal proximity in diverse modes appears to make travel necessary and desirable. I examine how aspects of conversational practice and of `meetings’ make travel obligatory for sustaining `physical proximity’. I go on to consider the roles that travel plays in social networks, using Putnam’s recent analysis of social capital. The implications of different kinds of travel for the distribution of such social capital are spelled out. I examine what kinds of corporeal travel are necessary and appropriate for a rich and densely networked social life across various social groups. And in the light of these analyses of proximity and social capital, virtual travel will not in a simple sense substitute for corporeal travel, since intermittent co-presence appears obligatory for many forms of social life. However, virtual travel does seem to produce a strange and uncanny life on the screen that is near and far, present and absent, and it may be that this will change the very nature of what is experienced as `co-presence’. I conclude by showing how issues of social inclusion and exclusion cannot be examined without identifying the complex, overlapping and contradictory mobilities necessarily involved in the patterning of an embodied social life.]]>
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