CFP: “Imaginaries of Techno-Optimism” Proposed Special Issue of Science as Culture

Call for papers

Techno-optimism — the expectation that science and technology will lead to economic, political, or social good — is a mainstay of business, government, and popular culture. Techno-optimistic attitudes range from the hope that technologies may have positive effects to the assumption that they necessarily will. For entrepreneurs or political leaders, promoting the promise of scientific and technological progress can lead to publicity and financial investment, draw the attention of development agencies, and attract enthusiastic employees and clients. While a charge of techno-utopianism is often taken as an insult, techno-optimism is embraced by some technology writers and activists.

It is especially important to examine techno-optimism in the cynical contemporary moment, which is marked by an increased perception of the threat posed by technology (Richardson 2015). In recent years, the promises of new media have been tempered by fears of state-sponsored hacking and corporate data monopolies. While techno-pessimism is on the rise, an underlying expectation of technological progress continues to structure technological design and policy. In this proposed special issue, we explore the nature of the hope that science and technology will make the world a better place and consider its effects. Drawing on Jasanoff and Kim’s (2015) conceptual framework of sociotechnical imaginaries, the contributors to this special issue ask:  How is techno-optimism produced?  and what are its consequences?

The concept of sociotechnical imaginaries provides an orienting framework for understanding the origins and consequences of these positive and future-focused dispositions toward technology. Jasanoff defines sociotechnical imaginaries as “collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures, animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in science and technology” (2015:4). Sociotechnical imaginaries explicitly connect the production of imaginaries (see Anderson 1983, Taylor 2003, Appadurai 1996) to the production of sociotechnical systems (see Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 1987). In this way, it foregrounds science and technology as co-produced with moral and political landscapes of social life (Jasanoff 2004), highlighting social, ethical, and political attachments that motivate technoscientific project. We focus in particular on optimistic sociotechnical imaginaries as these visions often motivate and direct the design and governance of technologies. By centering the performances of imaginaries within distributed sociotechnical systems, the framework of sociotechnical imaginaries draws attention to both the means and effects of articulating optimistic attitudes toward the sociotechnical future.

Where does techno-optimism come from? We welcome contributions that consider the origins of particular optimistic imaginaries and the ways that those imaginaries are maintained. Submissions could focus on the power-laden sources of techno-optimism, including unequal capacities to shape or sustain sociotechnical imaginaries.

What are the consequences of optimistic sociotechnical imaginaries? We seek contributions that examine the intended and unintended effects of techno-optimism. Papers may consider which groups are served by techno-optimistic imaginaries, or which problems are highlighted within optimistic discourses of the technological future.

We especially welcome contributions that expand the geographic and thematic diversity of the special issue, including case studies from Europe or Asia on topics including medicine, finance, and computing. In addition, we are interested in contributions that employ critical social analysis that is not foregrounded in existing applications of the sociotechnical imaginaries framework. Submissions may, for example, employ the concept of ideology to analyze techno-optimism (see Masco 2004; Turner 2006; Barbrook and Cameron 1996), or consider examples of techno-optimism that are “cruel” (Berlant 2011) by working against the features that make technologies attractive in the first place.

Please submit abstracts to Damien Droney (ddroney@uchicago.edu) by March 1st. Abstracts should follow the Science as Culture guidelines (200-250 words, see more here), but longer drafts or synopses are also welcome. If accepted, full 7000-word drafts would be due June 1st.

 

References

Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities (2nd ed.). London: Verso.

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Barbrook, R. & Cameron, A. (1996). The Californian Ideology, Science as Culture, 6(1): 44-72.

Berlant, L. G. (2011). Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bijker, W., Hughes, T., & Pinch, T. (eds.) (1987). The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jasanoff, S. (2004). States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order. London: Routledge.

Jasanoff, S., & Kim, S.-H. (Eds.) (2015). Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Mosco, V. (2004). The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Richardson, K. (2015). An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines. New York: Routledge.

Taylor, C (2003). Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Turner, F. (2006). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Deadline: March 1, 2018

Posted: February 07, 2018