(D01)
Politicizing futures. When conflicting visions meet
Location Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre (Bowland North)
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 4

Convenors

  • Andreas Lösch (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ) email
  • Alexandra Hausstein (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
  • Ulrich Ufer (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
  • Christoph Schneider (Technical University of Munich) email

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Short abstract

Diverging visions of sociotechnical futures claim to give answers to problems posed by societal crises. This panel will discuss power dimensions of spaces where competing visions meet and concurrent imaginaries of sociotechnical futures clash. How do conflicting visions politicize the future?

Long abstract

The future is a contested domain. Diverging visions of sociotechnical futures claim to give answers to problems posed by societal crises. Such visions seek to prevent the materialization of dystopias (e.g. climate change) or to proactively realize utopias (e.g. non-capitalist production) and present their solutions (e.g. geoengineering, human enhancement, democratized open fabrication) as the best (or only) possible way to address challenges. Visions are, therefore, embedded within power relations that shape collective imaginations and are deeply entangled with commonly shared, historically and culturally stabilized hegemonies and paradigms. A multiplicity of actors debate, negotiate and struggle over their diverse and often contradicting ideas about the future state of things, imaginaries of better futures and how to implement them. Therefore, visions can be highly contested and cause debate, conflict and controversy.

In this panel, we invite contributions that discuss power dimensions of spaces where competing visions meet and concurrent imaginaries of sociotechnical futures clash. Where are the meeting points of competing visions and what happens at these crossroads? How do the struggles of dominant or alternative visions take place? How do visions articulate or veil power, dominance and alterity? What are the roles and contributions of scientists, politicians, stakeholders, or even of the professional observers from STS in the meetings of different visions? How do visions provide narratives, context and legitimacy for socio-technological innovation, in short: how do conflicting visions politicize the future?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Clashing futures as drivers of socio-technological change

Authors: Andreas Lösch (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology ) email
Alexandra Hausstein (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
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Short abstract

Our paper presents conceptual reflections on how productive clashes of competing futures shape processes of innovation and sociotechnical change. How do futures interact with each other, resulting in processes of assembling, recombining and integrating certain elements of competing futures?

Long abstract

Science and Technology Studies on sociotechnical futures (such as visions, imaginaries and expectations) often assume, that innovations and sociotechnical changes are influenced by one stabilized, dominant and successful vision of a future. This is often a strategy that reconstructive studies use, in order to tell a consistent story line on the roles of futuristic visions and imaginaries, showing how a variety of actor expectations converge in commonly shaped visions or imaginaries, and constructing correlations with specific trends and results of such processes. We will argue, that such correlations can be better explained, if one focusses analytically on the "socio-epistemic practices" where diverse visions of futures enable re-configurations and new configurations of the orders of knowledge and simultaneously of the sociotechnical arrangements. (http://www.itas.kit.edu/english/projects_loes14_luv.php). Thus, we would like to propose an approach, where we analyze the emergence of dominant futures and the related processes of their construction and re-construction in different settings, by diverse actors. That means that we conceive clashes of competing futures as being constitutive for successful futures, but not just in the sense, that one future (e.g. imaginary, narrative) replaces or eliminates alternative futures. Our paper will concentrate on the question, how competing futures interact with each other, resulting in processes of successfully assembling, appropriating, hybridizing, recombining and integrating certain elements of competing futures. Our paper presents and discusses conceptual reflections on this issue and will illustrate them by spotlights on such productive clashes in different cases (e.g., nanotechnology, energy).

Disruptive innovation & the idea of technology

Author: Darryl Cressman (Maastricht University) email
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Short abstract

As a concept, disruptive innovation strongly resonates with a number of different sociotechnical futures. In this presentation, I will examine how these contested, and at times incommensurable, political and socio-economic visions of disruptive innovation share a similar idea of technology.

Long abstract

Disruptive innovation has captured the contemporary technological imagination. From its obscure origins in management theory, it has become one of the concepts used to envision a future in which networked digital technologies and platforms are endowed with the capability to transform what are seen as anachronistic and inefficient industries and institutions.

As a concept, disruptive innovation strongly resonates with a number of different sociotechnical futures while still maintaining an ambiguity, or ambivalence, towards any one particular future. Besides being a useful policy tool for neoliberal proponents of deregulation and market expansion, disruptive innovation is used to promote circular economies while also being invoked by critical social theorists who use it to predict the future of automation and labour and the emergence of a post-capitalist political economy.

In this presentation, I will examine how these contested, and at times incommensurable, political and socio-economic visions of disruptive innovation share a similar idea of technology. Drawing upon discourses of disruptive innovation from management theory, institutional policies, and critical social theory reveals a shared idea of technology that prioritizes the (imagined) transformative power of new and emerging artifacts and digital platforms independent of embedded power relations. The consequence of this imagined future, I argue, is the reification of old and unchanging sociotechnical relations that cannot easily be transformed by disruptive artifacts or processes.

Responsibility to drill or not to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean? The translation of techno-scientific uncertainty into political power, then and now

Author: Justiina Dahl (KTH Royal institute of Technology) email
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Short abstract

The 21st century has witnessed the rise of an expectation of increase in human activity in the Arctic. This presentation illustrates how this horizon of expectation consists of two incompatible interpretations of the relationship between science, technology and the environment in global governance.

Long abstract

Techno-scientific development, increased natural resource use and the progress of human induced global warming have led to the expectation of increased human activity in the Arctic in the future. This growth in international interest to future opportunities and challenges in the North has been complimented with a discussion of the feasibility of the existing governance structure to respond to these new pressures. This discussion has taken place thought the adoption of new national Arctic policies as well as public and academic debates. In these materials two competing narrative horizons of expectation for the expanded human activity in and materiality of the Arctic in the future have emerged. One reviews the progress of anthropogenic global warming as positive for the region because it opens up new opportunities for oil and gas exploration as well as shipping in the region. The other highlights how new problems for already existing human activity and settlement in the region are bound to arise from climate change. Unlike the first one, this narration does not discuss the spatial and climatic changes in the Arctic in separation from those in the rest of the globe. This paper studies the experts, sciences and technologies used in the construction of these horizons of expectation in the new Arctic policies of Norway, Russia and Canada in the light of historical developments. It uses these cases to forward a new analytical distinction and argument between 'international system conserving' and 'international system reforming' epistemic communities in multilateral global governance.

Meeting to plan the future of cycling: from technical to epistemic and recurrent objects

Author: Pim Peters (Technische Universität München) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores how planning coordinates multiple visions of the future city. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary planning meeting, I highlight the recursive nature of planning objects, paying attention to meetings as particular spaces where a re-description of planning objects unfolds.

Long abstract

Urban road planning provides ample opportunity for studying how conflicting visions meet. Planning is precisely premised on its capacity to shape futures and synthesize multiple visions. This paper ethnographically studies how the vision for the first cycling highway in Munich was enacted and coordinated through a multi-disciplinary planning meeting.

Recent STS work on multi-disciplinary meetings has drawn attention to the roles of objects in the practices of architects and scientists (Ewenstein & Whyte, 2009; Nicolini, Mengis, & Swan, 2012). Specifically the notions of 'technical' and 'epistemic' objects - the taken for granted tools and what is not yet known - have been proposed as fruitful for understanding how partially existing objects are enacted and manipulated in multi-disciplinary meetings.

However, the technical or epistemic nature of objects is often precisely what is at stake in transport planning meetings. Planning meetings precisely gather different understandings of what may and may not be called into question. Such understandings are not fixed, but are conjured and collectively explored within the space of meetings. But how is this done? Drawing on Corsín Jiménez (2017), I suggest that recursion, understood as a self-referential process, provides a potentially fruitful way of figuring this out. In this perspective, planning meetings may be conceived as spaces in which conflicting urban realities may be re-described through drawing in parts of each other.

Citizen led visions of the future smart city from grassroots urban agriculture

Authors: Adrian Clear (Northumbria University) email
Sara Heitlinger (Newcastle University) email
Rachel Clarke (Northumbria University) email
Simran Chopra (Northumbria University) email
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Short abstract

Taking a participatory and speculative design approach in a UK community, we unpack how material practices of urban agriculture might be configured in a future "smart" sustainable city imagined by its citizens, and we contrast this with technosolutionist visions of smart cities from the literature.

Long abstract

Visions of sustainable smart cities typically involve top-down, authoritarian, efficiency-based solutions to the problem of environmental sustainability through the use of embedded networked sensing and automation in order to optimise urban processes, and therefore make them more sustainable. But these visions perform a very distinct version of sustainability that leave little room for citizen agency or alternative understandings of sustainability (MacLaren, Aygeman 2016). Furthermore, while there are increasing efforts to involve citizens in the design of smart cities technologies, there remain significant questions over who controls, owns, and has access to the data and how legislation is addressing these challenges (ICO 2017).

In this paper, we capture a citizen perspective on 'smartness' in relation to urban agriculture in a city with perceived social deprivation, transitory student and migrant population, diverse cultural and food heritage, limited growing spaces and the recent removal of allotments. We describe findings from a pilot project that used a speculative design approach, grounded in life experiences and local material re-imaginings, to negotiate past, present, and future practices of urban agriculture (Baumann et al 2017; Forlano 2016; Light et al 2009). Our novel method engages grassroots urban growing communities in the co-design of sustainable urban futures, through mapping, experimentation, creative exploration and critique of smart city technologies such as networked environmental sensing and data visualisation. We reflect on how our method brought out new design imaginaries that contrast sharply to the technoscientific futurity (Puig de la Bellacasa. 2015) of the dominant visions of sustainable smart cities.

Exploring diverging visions of the future city using the tree as method

Authors: Hanne Cecilie Geirbo (University of Oslo) email
Hanne Johnsrud (Link Arkitektur) email
Ida Nilstad Pettersen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) email
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Short abstract

This paper will use street trees as an entry to exploring diverging visions of future cities, such as the historically aware city, the technical city, the ecological city, and the aesthetic city, and to discuss how such visions are articulated and negotiated in street transformation projects.

Long abstract

This paper uses street trees as an entry to studying how competing visions of future cities are negotiated. In the street, a multitude of people and things compete for space. Among them are street trees. Street trees are biological, but also cultural, architectonic, and historical entities. They claim space above the ground, but also underground, in competition with water pipes and electronic infrastructure. As a method to study different visions of the city and how they compete and are negotiated in practice, we have invited practitioners from different fields of urban development in two Norwegian cities to conversations about street trees. Through discussing the role of trees in their practice and asking them to draw a diagrammatic intersection of their ideal street with trees, we have got different visions of the future city into view. This includes the historically aware city where street trees represent continuity and connection with the past, the technical city where culverts are shielded from tree roots, the ecological city where street trees facilitate biological diversity and manage surface water, and the aesthetic city where the seasonal changes of the street trees facilitate a sensory connection to nature. The paper will discuss how these visions of the future city are articulated and negotiated in street transformation projects, including the power dynamics inherent in these negotiations. One example is the conflict between the visions of the historically aware city and the ecological city in Renaissance neighbourhoods where street trees will obstruct the continuity with the past.

The paradoxically uncritical Smart City

Authors: Ulrich Ufer (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
Sadeeb Simon Ottenburger (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) email
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Short abstract

Comprehensive smart cities are unlikely to emerge in Europe, but sectoral urban smartification is in the making and concerns millions of citizens. Why is the vision of the smart city not subject to fundamental critical debate? We explain this absence by analysing four socio-technical paradoxes.

Long abstract

Comprehensive smart cities are unlikely to emerge in Europe, but sectoral urban smartification is in the making and concerns millions of citizens. Why is the vision of the smart city not subject to fundamental critical debate? We explain this absence by analysing four socio-technical paradoxes.

(I) Invulnerability Paradox: Narratives of smart security lead to neglect of risks and increase vulnerability.

(II) Reliability Paradox: Smart measures for increased technological reliability produce new technological risks and neglect that risk is a total social fact.

(III) Good Life Paradox: Visions of long-term expected improvement in the quality of life through smartification lead to acceptance of short- and mid-term setbacks for the quality of life through smartification.

(IV) Necessity Paradox: The distinction between necessary and auxiliary smart urban innovation is only theoretically tenable and leads to understating smartification's impact on society.

We discuss the four paradoxes of the smart city and argue that public attention predominantly focuses on uncritical aspects, while ignoring the paradoxes' self-negating and critical aspects. In conclusion, we underscore that the current focus on technological resilience, technological improvement of the quality of life, or on technological necessities creates a chimera of the future city that diverts from present-day urban problems and re-produces them into the smart city.

Politicizing energy futures in conflicting visions

Authors: Cordula Kropp (Uniuversität Stuttgart) email
Ricarda Scheele (University of Stuttgart) email
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Short abstract

The paper explores controversies over energy landscapes in the three governance modes of modernist, reflexive and post-political governance based on a case study from Bavaria in Germany

Long abstract

Landscapes have been described for long as hybrid things, made of human and non-human agents, materialities and discourses. Diverging visions of sociotechnical futures play a special role in this co-construction: behind the imbroglio of specific designs, cultural models, technical and scientific standards, societal choices and ecological criteria these visions shape both, the ways of forming opinions and making decisions as well as emerging socio-technical constellations and their spatial implementation. But what if all general points of reference erode and institutional mechanisms for legitimate decision making are missing? This is how today's energy landscapes come into existence. Against this background, I will explore controversies over legitimate energy landscape by examining the production of energy imaginaries as multifaceted processes of 'cosmopolitics', in which a multiplicity of actors is involved. The dynamics of such co-constructive processes will be sketched out under modernist, reflexive and post-political governance constellations. Based on case studies from Bavaria (Germany), the controversies will be traced back to conflicting patterns of justification beyond industrial certainties of 'first modernity'. It will be examined whether they can be considered as typical elements of reflexive governance in 'second modernity', or whether they point to a post-political production of energy landscapes on the way towards 'third modernity', a governance constellation in which ecological and democratic claims are merely simulated.

Kropp, C. (2017): Controversies around Energy Landscapes in Third Modernity. In: Landscape Research. Online First. Permanent Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01426397.2017.1287890

Reconfiguring regional energy spaces: competing dispositives and imaginaries

Author: Ludger Gailing (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space) email
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Short abstract

Conceptualising competing sociotechnical realities and imaginaries from a dispositive perspective means exploring networks where power is inscribed in spatial ensembles and visions. The paper analyses regions with both a fossil-fuel- or nuclear-based generation of electricity and renewable energies.

Long abstract

Socio-technical arrangements are related to strong national imaginaries. But at the same time, technologies and infrastructures become materialized by being closely interlinked with specific places, meet with different subnational expectations and are politicized by local and regional communities. Following the "spatial turn" in STS studies, cities and regions are crucial for understanding socio-technical realities and futures. The paper examines the spatial organisation of energy transitions directing the focus towards aspects of reconfiguring regional energy spaces. The concept of "energy spaces" does not only refer to spatial aspects of infrastructures like power plants and grids. Instead, it also points to regional governance arrangements, power dimensions, conflicts and visions related to the spatiality of energy.

By analysing empirically the tensions between old and new energy spaces, the paper explores regions with both a traditional, fossil-fuel- or nuclear-based generation of electricity and renewable energy generation. The empirical cases - the Rhenisch lignite mining district (Germany) and Britain's Energy Coast in Cumbria (UK) - will be analysed and compared with the help of the dispositive approach, a Foucauldian concept for studying aspects of socio-materiality and power. The dispositive approach is suited for showing how particular energy projects and discourses are embedded in socio-technical arrangements. Taking up a dispositive perspective in conceptualising energy transitions means empirically exploring strategic network relations where power is collectively produced and inscribed in socio-technical spatial ensembles and the corresponding visions. Old and new energy spaces with its competing socio-materialities and imaginaries are the outcomes and the foundations of these dispositives.

Foreclosing "conflict": an ethnography of futures at the European Spallation Source

Author: Ivanche Dimitrievski (Linköping University) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyses some of the visions regarding ESS - a future spallation facility in the south of Sweden - to address "conflict" as a performance. What can these visions tell us about the ecology of "conflict", its dynamics, and the non/political subject?

Long abstract

The European Spallation Source, or ESS for short, is an upcoming big science facility for neutron-based materials research, currently under construction in Lund, Sweden. When it first reached the public eye, the vision of "ESS in Lund" was received in two main ways. Some welcomed it, dreaming of a future in which the facility would resolve the "grand challenges" of today and secure for Sweden a competitive global position in scientific research and innovation. Others opposed it, anticipating nightmares of radioactive pollution, land degradation and other forms of environmental catastrophe. These two diverging visions of the future were there, as publicly made available in newspaper and in talk, and yet, interestingly, they never entered into "conflict" with one another. The nightmare of living, as one citizen is reported to have put it, like "next to Barsebäck" - the relatively recently decommissioned nuclear power plant in the same region as Lund - was simply over-ridden/written before it could mobilise a force constitutive of "proper opposition". Drawing on ethnographic observation, interviews, and document analysis, this paper explores the practices of foreclosing "conflict" as integral to futuring ESS. What are the important discursive strategies involved in depoliticising the other in this context? How is a foreclosure of "conflict" achieved locally in textually mediated public discourse?

Functions of media utopianism in innovation processes

Author: Jan-Felix Schrape (University of Stuttgart) email
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Short abstract

Media utopias can be regarded as productive types of communication: They serve to guide innovation, to direct a particular technology into a new societal context or to start an unconventional path of development. Through technology, society conceives itself as the creator of its own future.

Long abstract

Media utopias combine expectations of technological potential and far-reaching ideas of social transformation overlaid with a shimmering revolutionary vocabulary in a novel and particular way. Based on empirical observations and theoretical reflections, my talk discusses the sociopolitical functions of utopian concepts in the digital realm and assumes that media utopias should be viewed as narratives that offer orientation on uncertainties and conflicts shaping current societal communication.

In that sense, concurring media utopias - often deriving from from corporate PR departments or professional visioneers - can be regarded as productive types of communication:

They serve to guide innovation, to direct a technology into a new context or to start an unconventional path of development. They generate attention for technological potentials, provoke the need for follow-up communication, channel the discourse in a particular direction - and thus substantially contribute to our daily coping with contingencies and uncertainties: Business corporations may see a confirmation of their current course or derive from them an urgent need for reorganization; early adopters can align their preferences on them; science can claim the need for further research and politicians can call for societal reorientation.

In contrast to classic social utopias, however, their point of departure for hoped-for transitions is not the social order itself. Rather, new communication and information technologies are regarded as "media" for a presumed turning point. Through their radical yet open-ended technologically mediated expectations, media utopias provoke a sense of immediate pertinence that requires a prompt response in almost all areas of society.

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

Author: Ginevra Sanvitale (Eindhoven University of Technology) email
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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.

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.

Controversy in the Aesthetics of Religion: when religious studies go cognitive, visions on how to study religions clash

Author: Mareike Smolka (Maastricht University) email
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Short abstract

The trend to merge research in the cognitive sciences with humanities scholarship has stimulated a controversy in the Aesthetics of Religion (AoR), a sub-discipline in religious studies. Studying this controversy reveals how visions about the future of AoR have fueled epistemic conflicts.

Long abstract

Scholars in the Aesthetics of Religion (AoR), a sub-discipline in religious studies that investigates the sensorial qualities of religious experience, have recently joined their colleagues in the humanities who are eager to 'go cognitive'. Attempts to bridge the gap between cognition and culture have turned into an academic trend that scholars do not want to miss.

However, those who aim to pursue this trend in AoR have been confronted with harsh criticism. Conflicting visions about the future of the discipline have resulted in a controversy. This controversy concerns disagreements about how to position AoR in relation to other disciplines, specifically the Cognitive Science of Religion, and methodological questions about how to study religious experience.

To explore how conflicting visions fuel controversy in AoR, I conducted conference ethnography and qualitative interviews with a network of scholars who institutionalized the discipline in Germany. My research reveals that conflicting epistemic claims about how cognition should be conceptualized rest at the core of the controversy. An old debate about whether to understand cognition as input-output information processing or as embodied and embedded is revived in AoR. Although scholars do not find consensus, they stop arguing in the open and seem to accept the coexistence of the two conflicting models.

The relevance of this research is twofold. First, it demonstrates how visions about the future of a discipline and epistemic claims are co-produced. Second, it highlights the power of the cognitive trend in the humanities which pressures scholars to tolerate epistemic tensions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.