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Accepted Paper:

Microbes and Microchips: emergent technologies, emerging futures  
Eric Orlowski (University College London) Katherine Pfeiffer (UCL)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, we explore how futures may be solidified through emerging technologies. Through two ethnographic studies - human augmentation in Sweden and biodesign in the UK – we question the role of “objects of the future” in shifting imaginaries of the future from the virtual to the real.

Paper long abstract:

In considering how the future is reined in, one is faced with the question of causation across time. How can one act upon the future? The world we encounter, including its material contents, is in the present. It has been said that co-presence with the past is mere illusion (Irvine 2020: 83) and equally, co-presence with the future may appear a projection. Yet, objects are—affectively and socially at least—"temporally other to us" (Bryant and Knight 2015: 92) and orient us towards the past or the future. Drawing on ethnographic research of human augmentation technologies being developed by hopeful techno-utopianists in Sweden and biomaterials developed by conflicted optimists in the UK, this paper questions how a technology’s physical presence, even as a modest fragment of its future potential, acts socially as a conduit for engaging with the future. We theorize that human augmentation technologies and biomaterials enfold anticipated futures into the present: they are topological. We consider such technologies “objects of the future.” In doing so, we draw from material culture studies which understand historical objects—objects of the past—as reconstituted and (re)inscribed with meanings over time to produce different understandings of the past (Gell 1992; Irvine 2020). Objects of the past are never doing work in the past, but always in the present. “Objects of the future,” we propose, flip this dynamic, and present a means of materialising a future, solidifying it in the present to effectively shift these imaginaries from the virtual to the real.

Panel P44a
Futurology: anthropological containment and delivery
  Session 1 Friday 10 June, 2022, -