Making & Doing Technoscientific Futures Better

CfP – The Changing Political Economy of Research & Innovation (CPERI) 6th Annual International Workshop

[Please note that the date has changed; the workshop will be held directly before the EASST conference in Lancaster]

Dates: 23-24 July 2018

Location: Institute for Social Futures, Lancaster University, UK

Organizers: David Tyfield (Lancaster University), Stevie de Saille (Sheffield University), & Janja Komljenovic (Lancaster University)

Abstract Deadline: 30 March 2018, submit via email to

Keynote speakers:

  • Professor Susan Robertson (Cambridge) on “the University in an age of platform capitalism”
  • Dr Mark Carrigan (Cambridge) on “Securing public knowledge amidst the epistemic chaos of platform capitalism?”

Call for Papers

There is no shortage of scholarship identifying the profound challenges of contemporary techno-scientific lifeworlds, whether regarding the Anthropocene (Hamilton 2017, Bonneuil & Fressoz 2016), emergence of post- (or even trans-) human ‘digital disruptive innovation’ (Harari 2016, Lanier 2017), or their conjunction in the emergent ‘technosphere’ (e.g. Haff 2016, Szerszynski 2017).  Meanwhile, and not unrelated, public spheres (viz. CPERI 2016, Liège) continue to be upended and turbulently transformed as digital social media, and potentially their deepening percolation into material life, unleashes social division, economic inequality and ‘culture wars’ polarization.

Indeed, 2017 was the year in which a new ‘reasonable’ or ‘respectable’ declinism regarding ‘civilization’ (often identified with Western and/or liberal democracy) went mainstream (Luce 2017, Reich 2017, King 2017, Cf Mishra 2017).  Techno-science, and thereby the research and innovation (R&I) from which it hails, plays a crucial role in all these narratives, whether optimistic and utopian or pessimistic and dystopian.  Indeed, the zeitgeist of doom and incipient barbarism raises with renewed urgency long-standing but fundamental, ‘big’ questions about the crucial role of science and technology and innovation – and, crucially, education – in the evolution and formation of ‘civilizations’ and stable, thriving societies (e.g. Mumford 2010, Mauss 2006, Beinhocker 2007).  With digital social media, built on privately-owned and deliberately addictive platforms, parsing up the public sphere, are there even socio-technical grounds any longer for a single, shared (if not ‘objective’) body of knowledge that both binds a society together and is itself collaboratively developed and disseminated by its R&I and educational institutions?

There is a grave danger that this new Western declinism simply serves to enact and perform its bleakest premonitions, even as it may aim to forestall them.  For which socio-political forces benefit most from deepening the public sense of things ‘falling apart’? Indeed, this challenge resonates particularly strongly with the contemporary situation of STS more generally.  On the one hand, the situated co-production of (materialized) knowledges with worlds and selves is increasingly accepted not only across academia, but is now also spilling over into public common-sense.  But, on the other, today STS finds itself in a predicament arising from neglect of many of its traditional presuppositions, which now appear in radical flux.  Many core insights are being (ab)used in ways that undermine the sociopolitical causes that STS has traditionally supported, and instead taken to legitimate practices of ‘post-truth’ and rejection of expertise (see CPERI 2017, Boston); while post hoc critiques of specific technological trajectories and technocratic programmes of anticipatory forecasting only serve to deepen political paralysis vis-à-vis a daunting future.

To counter this downward dynamic meaningfully, however, demands not just the voluntaristic politico-cultural formulation of new ‘narratives’ or ‘myths’ for society, even as these are undoubtedly both powerful and crucial.  But it also calls for new forms of active engagement with R&I that both underpin such new narratives with demonstrable practical experiment, and thereby bring a hands-on, in-depth and appreciative understanding of current R&I frontiers that can possibly direct these from within, not just criticize or critique from without.

Such future-oriented and engaged research must also go beyond simple activism by actively interrogating and illuminating the political economic and ‘structural’ conditions of any such particular techno-scientific initiative as these are changing in parallel.  Amidst the Anthropocene, post-human innovation and cosmopolitized globalism, we see transformations underway in (global) political economy, political ecology and human self-definition, driven by the US-dominated, neoliberal conditions in which STS has largely developed – and has not only taken for granted but sometimes refused to examine – to date.  STS must thus engage more concertedly with these changing but presupposed aspects of its research, and vice versa.

In short, what remains urgently needed is (re-)constructive research that engages with changing and shaping emergent techno-scientific futures in ‘better’ directions.  This encompasses not only positive agendas and initiatives – e.g. ‘responsible research & innovation’ – across the systems of socio-technical life – e.g. health & medicine, environment, mobility, energy, cities & construction, production & consumption etc… – but also regarding the institutions and practices of knowledge production.

This workshop invites papers at the boundaries of STS and political economy and/or political ecology, across the spectrum of positions (including trans-feminist, post-human(ist) and non-Western scholarship), investigating new perspectives on key global challenges in ways that offer promising approaches to future-oriented action.

We invite papers (for 20 minute presentations) on any theme of contemporary R&I or higher education, insofar as they engage with making and/or doing technoscientific futures better, for instance:

  • The Precarity and Politics of the Expert / The Fact
  • New/Emerging Forms of Value & Valuation in Science, Technology & Medicine
  • Futures of Knowledge & Education Institutions amidst Changing Knowledge Cultures
  • Austerity and the Economics of Innovation
  • Challenges to Responsible Research & Innovation
  • The Geography of (Alternative) Knowledges
  • Diverse Knowers and Knowing
  • Commercial Imperatives in Research and Innovation
  • Scientific Ambiguity and Environmental Science
  • Complexity and Scientific Decision-making
  • Technologically-driven Social/Political Change
  • Ontological / Epistemic Politics of Emerging Technoscientific Fields

We especially encourage contributions from scholars from Eastern and Southern Europe and beyond, areas which are not well-represented within our network, and with whom we would like to foster opportunities for future collaboration, particularly at the early-to-mid career stage.

Abstracts should be no more than 300 words, and should include the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and contact information. Questions and abstracts should be sent via email to  by 30 March 2018.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of Lancaster’s Institute for Social Futures in hosting this event.


On The Limits of Knowing: Ignorance, Promises and Political Economy of Knowledge

Dates: August 29 & 30, 2017  | A 4S Pre-Conference
Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Organizer: Mark Robinson, Creighton University School of Medicine

How do we make sense of the increasing role of ignorance or problematic facts in knowledge regimes? The social mechanics of truth and knowledge have been a central concern within Science, Technology and Society (STS). Yet, the engineering of ignorance and the sense of an increasing imperviousness to facts/knowledge show brightly the limits of analytical approaches to science, technology, and innovation that ignore the role of political economy in contemporary knowledge practices. Important questions about the shaky status of facts — and the vicissitudes of knowers — emerge in a panoply of contexts: in the spread and purchase of myths through digital platforms; in the growing acknowledgement of large-scale scientific irreproducibility / unreliability; in the increasingly commercial imperatives placed upon academic knowledge production; and as highlighted in recent anxieties about strategic public ignorance and global democratic politics. In each context, one sees the fragility of approaches that assume that we are all rational actors working with — or even beholden to — uncompromised facts.
Considerations of agnotology–the area concerned with the emergence, use, and instrumentalization of ignorance—has become rather urgent in light of recent sociopolitical events marked by the sense of an increasing imperviousness to formal modes of knowledge and knowing, reflecting what some have termed, a post-truth, post-factual society. Breathless critics point to seismic U.S. and global political shifts such as Brexit, the recent U.S. elections, and the rise of the far right in Europe as evidence of a mounting epistemic crisis — an unceremonious dethroning of truth, facts, and rationality.
Yet, and perhaps paradoxically, these epistemic crises also show the power and purchase of alternative universes of knowing  — alternative worlds replete with their own logics, beliefs, and systems of veridiction and value. It also brings into view the way that unstable, complex or problematic knowledge works in tandem with or as a key component within larger social and economic paradigms. Agnotology (Proctor and Schiebinger 2008) references the “cultural inducement” of ignorance and false knowledge. However, what the agnotological impulse also reveals, especially in its more postmodern sense (Mirowski 2013), is the glaring limits of knowledge models that willfully ignore the technologies and techniques that enable and engineer ignorance and the subsequent instrumentalizing or capitalization of problematic, unverified, contested or merely promised knowledge. In this world, gilded visions of social, political and technological futures obscure long, flagrant histories of failed promises; empirically impossible promises are conferred the status of actualizable futures. Ways of mapping or understanding technoscience and innovation that rely on decontextualized epistemic assumptions reproduce a long debunked strain of determinism whereby facts and knowledge are understood to be the primary animating force that powers decisions, behaviors, institutions, emergence and belief. Perhaps, even the notion of agnotology itself performs such a determinism by treating ignorance as marginal – as rare, rather than prolific or perhaps, inherent to knowledge practices. At the same time, the recent focus on issues of value and valuation returns our attention to the ways that knowledge practices operate as sites for the engineering and enactment of particular values (Dussage, et al 2015) in a variety of domains from global health (Adams, et al 2016) to the global bioeconomy (Birch 2016). In each case, value(s) warrant intervening and transforming knowledge systems and infrastructures.
For political economic analyses of knowledge change, knowledge has always been inextricable from the economic and political. Larger considerations of culture, sociopolitical systems and economic formations (Lave, et al 2010) were inextricable from theorizations of technoscience, knowledge programs and political ideologies. Much like the agnotological lens, political economy necessarily redirects our analyses towards institutions, economic imperatives, charismatic actors, culture and myth, promissory economies, the cultivation of susceptible subjects, the strategic use of complexity, and the workings of political systems as key components in the analysis of knowledge modes, especially as they animate technoscience and innovation. Yet, perhaps our attention ought to consider the challenge of changing knowers. More than ever, recent events have brought into relief the role of knowers’ orientations (Beckert 2016; Harding 1993; Robinson, forthcoming) in analyses of knowledge transformation.
We invite papers that explore a wide range of approaches to these themes, including the following:
  • The Precarity of the Expert / The Fact
  • Freedom from Expertise / The Politics of Expertise
  • Values and Valuation in Science, Technology and Medicine
  • The Risks of Knowing & Knowledge
  • The Economics of the Unknown / Known
  • Evaluating Unstable or Unproven Knowledge
  • The Geography of Alternative Knowledge
  • Diverse Knowers and Knowing / Feminist Knowledge
  • New Approaches in Social Epistemology
  • Fruitful Falsehoods / Meaningless Facts / The Politics of Deniability
  • Commercial Imperatives in Research and Innovation
  • Scientific Ambiguity and Environmental Science
  • Pharmaceutical Markets / Clinical Ambiguity
  • Social Media & The Geography of Rumours
  • Complexity and Scientific Decision-making
Exploring case studies from science, technology, medicine as well as economics and innovation, this workshop aims to bring together a broad range of scholarship across a variety of fields and approaches.
Please send proposals and questions to both MarkRobinson (@) and EmmaWojnicki [at] Send abstracts by March 18, 2017.
Advisory Panel: 

Interview on 4S Backchannels blog: “Rethinking value in bio-economy” — Kean Birch

Here’s an interview I’ve just done with Aleka Gurel for the 4S Backchannels blog.”Rethinking Value in the Bio-economy with Kean Birch: New Research in ST&HVAleka Gurel21 August, 2016In this series of Backchannels posts, we’ll be highlighting new research in the 4S journals, ST&HV and ESTS. Here, Backchannels interviews Kean Birch, author of the recent ST&HV…

via Interview on 4S Backchannels blog: “Rethinking value in bio-economy” — Kean Birch

New Book Proposal on “Neoliberal Bio-economies”: Open for Comments

I have just submitted a book proposal to Palgrave Macmillan. The title of the proposed book is “Neoliberal Bio-economies? The Co-construction of Markets and Natures” and its general description is as follows:

“A growing number of politicians, policy-makers, academics, commentators, and others globally have identified the ‘bio-economy’ as an important pathway for societal transitions towards a more sustainable future. The promise held by the bio-economy concerns the ability of societies to replace existing fossil fuel inputs in their economies with new bio-based inputs: for example, replacing petroleum with biofuels; oil-based chemicals with biochemicals; plastics with bioplastics; and so on. Conceptually then, the bio-economy is a termed used to reflect the sustainable use of biological, renewable materials in the development of bio-based products, services, and energy that substitute for existing fossil fuel-based products, services and, energy, as part of a broader societal transition to a low-carbon future. Although the bio-economy represents a potentially broad vision of future sustainability, certain policy options and pathways are preferred over others, especially those dominated by prevailing neoliberal ideas about the importance and roles of markets, technoscientific innovation, and nature in society. As such, the bio-economy has come to increasingly reflect neoliberal constructions of markets and the corollary constructions of nature in particular ways as the solution to global environmental problems.

This book is the first attempt to synthesize existing research on the bio-economy and empirically analyse the co-construction of markets and natures in the bio-economy as a policy response to global environmental challenges like climate change. It draws on over a decade of research on the bio-economy around the world, but especially in Europe and North America. The overall objective of the book is to examine what sorts of markets (e.g. price, contract, monopoly) and natures are being imagined and constructed in the pursuit of the bio-economy. Consequently, it aims to unpack neoliberalism and neoliberalization of nature(s) as concepts, as much as the concept and practices of the bio-economy.”

If you have any comments on the proposal then do feel free to post them on this session at


UK-Canadian Frontiers of Science: The changing political economy of research & innovation — Kean Birch

A video of session on the changing political economy of research and innovation (CPERI) that I helped organize at the UK-Canadian Frontiers of Science event – see Twitter handle #UKCanFrontiers – organized by The Royal Society and The Royal Society of Canada in March this year. It doesn’t have my talk in it (hopefully that’ll…

via UK-Canadian Frontiers of Science: The changing political economy of research & innovation — Kean Birch