Accepted Paper:

Imagined computer futures. Fear, technology and politics in Italian sociotechnical imaginaries (1977-1994)  


Ginevra Sanvitale (Eindhoven University of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

Fear is a powerful resource for both political and technological discourse. This paper introduce the use of positive fear narratives as a tool to analyze sociotechnical imaginaries, presenting a case study on the popularization of personal computers in late 20th century Italy.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary Sociotechnical imaginaries often emphasize the promises of ICT. However, technology promotion does not only rely on narratives of desirable futures. In fact, technology adoption can also be encouraged trough positive fear narratives, employing fear as an incentive -rather than a deterrent- to do something. As an example, the threat of cybercrime can be used by governments to promote investments in surveillance tools. In my research I inquire on the use of fear in pro-technology discourse trough a case study on the popularization of personal computers in Italy. What role did personal computers play in Italian sociotechnical imaginaries of the late 20th century? Which fears were employed in the construction of these imaginaries? To which larger sets of values are these fears connected?

To address these questions I analyze the intersection of political visions and technological development in ICT narratives. In fact, the values which are reproduced by technological discourse can be approached in a systemic way as the expression of specific organizational structures and political traditions. In particular, I will focus on the narratives produced by three group of actors. First, ITC corporations operating in Italy, like the local IBM branch and Olivetti. Second, the main political parties of the time: Christian Democrats, Socialists and Communists. Third, social movements rooted in Marxist and social anarchist theories. In this paper I will present an outline of my research project, with a focus on sources and methodology. Some preliminary results will be provided to show how, historically, conflicting political visions have been translated into ICT narratives in Italy.

Panel D01
Politicizing futures. When conflicting visions meet