Accepted Paper:

The daily life of techno-scientific promises: investigating the tensions between the regime of promising and research practices  


Béatrice Cointe (CNRS - CSI)

Paper short abstract:

Large interdisciplinary, application-oriented projects are one manifestation of the current regime of promising. Drawing on the ethnographic study of one such project in the field of bioenergy, we explore how this regime of promising affects scientific practices, especially in fundamental research.

Paper long abstract:

Research funding increasingly requires that research projects be oriented towards promising applications that correspond to expectations partly formulated outside the scientific realm, even for fundamental research. This shapes research priorities, scientific rhetoric, but also the organisation of scientific work. Large "promise-oriented" programmes tend to imply federations of scientific teams working across disciplines, and often involve a consideration of the socio-economic dimensions of potential - though sometimes highly speculative - outcomes.

This contribution will explore how and to what extent this "regime of promising" affects research practices via the ethnographic study of one project in bioenergy research. This project is somewhat emblematic of the regime of promising: it is a large interdisciplinary project (including social sciences), with fundamental and applied aspects, and claims to explore the potential of microbial bioenergy as a solution to energy challenges. At the same time, bioenergy is far from being the main interest of most teams involved, and the project is mostly expected to yield progress in fundamental microbiology and electrochemistry. It thus allows for the analysis of the multiple tensions between the actual development of emerging science and the promises that fund and orient it.

Relying on observation of lab work and project meetings, interviews, and the analysis of project documents, we will address the following questions: How do researchers compose with these promises? To what extent is scientific work affected by them, both in its organisation and in its inspiration? What can this project tell of the production and circulation of techno-scientific promises?

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising