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.


Pricing the EpiPen: Drug Prices, Corporate Governance, and the Financialization of Biomedicine — Danya Glabau

Why does Mylan’s EpiPen cost so much? Read my early-stage reflections on the matter over at Somatosphere in a recent blog post.

via Pricing the EpiPen: Drug Prices, Corporate Governance, and the Financialization of Biomedicine — Danya Glabau

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

4S/EASST Open Track: “Turning Things into Assets”

Here is a link to the track and papers in it.


Kean Birch (York University, Canada)
Fabian Muniesa (Mines ParisTech, France)

Short Abstract

An increasing number of STS scholars are engaging with assets as objects of inquiry. An asset is a thing that can be owned, traded and capitalized as a revenue stream, often involving the valuing of discounted future earnings in the present. One key question emerges: how do things become assets?

Long Abstract

An increasing number of STS scholars are engaging with assets as interesting objects of inquiry, worthy of our analytical gaze. Scholars of the bio-economy – e.g. Birch and Tyfield (2013), Cooper and Waldby (2014), Lezaun and Montgomery (2015), Martin (2015) – have sought to differentiate asset from commodity markets in order to analyse the resulting socio-ethical implications, while scholars in the social studies of finance – e.g. Doganova and Karnøe (2015), Doganova and Muniesa (2015), Muniesa (2012, 2014), Ortiz (2013) – have sought to understand how assets are constituted by and come to constitute, in a performative fashion, valuation processes. By asset, we mean a thing – e.g. patent, business model, technology, land, forest, skills and experience, CV, bodily function, personal popularity, pollution emissions, building, infrastructure, life form, molecule, etc., etc. – that can be owned, traded and capitalized as a revenue stream, often involving the valuing of discounted future earnings in the present.

In the recent STS literature mentioned above, one key question emerges: how do things become assets? What this question requires us to do is tease apart the (techno-economic) configuration of assets and capitalization; that is, the tangible materiality and intangible knowledge that enable things to be turned into assets (or not). It leaves us with many more questions about where to take any critique of capitalism and technoscience more generally. First, this might be the threat of assetization stifling innovation, promoting the pursuit of rentiership (i.e. extraction of value through property ownership) over entrepreneurship (i.e. creation of value through development of new products and services). Second, it might be the implications of capitalization in reshaping how we think about things (including ourselves), turning them into a purely financial calculation of costs and benefits over other concerns (Chiapello 2015).


In light of these issues, we invite contributors to address but not limit themselves to the following questions:

  • How might we conceptualize the difference between commodities and assets? What does this difference mean for our understanding of value and valuation?
  • How are things turned into assets? How are they capitalized? What sort of techno-economic configurations does this involve? What are the implications? Does this entail new or old forms of rentiership?
  • How might we use concepts like assetization and capitalization in place of dominant terms like commodification, marketization, privatization, neoliberalization, etc. as a critique of capitalism?
  • How does capitalization differ with different materialities? How can we recognize the material traits of assetization?
  • How is the logic of the asset transforming science and technology? What is driving science and technology policy in the era of the business model?


Birch, T. and Tyfield, D. 2013. “Theorizing the Bioeconomy: Biovalue, Biocapital, Bioeconomics or… What?” Science, Technology and Human Values 38(3): 299-327.
Cooper, M. and Waldby, C. 2014. Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Lezaun, J. and Montgomery, C.M. 2015, “The Pharmaceutical Commons: Sharing and Exclusion in Global Health Drug Development,” Science, Technology and Human Values 40(1): 3-29.
Martin, P. 2015. “Commercialising Neurofutures: Promissory Economies, Value Creation and the Making of a New Industry”, BioSocieties, doi:10.1057/biosoc.2014.40
Doganova, L. and Karnøe, P. 2015. “Clean and Profitable: Entangling Valuations in Environmental Entrepreneurship”, in A. Berthoin Antal, M. Hutter and D. Stark (Eds.). Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 229-248.
Doganova, L. and Muniesa, F. 2015. “Capitalization Devices: Business Models and the Renewal of Markets”, in M. Kornberger, L. Justesen, J. Mouritsen and A. Koed Madsen (Eds.), Making Things Valuable. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 109-215.
Muniesa, F. 2012. “A Flank Movement in the Understanding of Valuation”, Sociological Review 59(s2): 24-38.
Muniesa, F. 2014. The Provoked Economy: Economic Reality and the Performative Turn, London: Routledge.
Ortiz, H. 2013. “The Limits of Financial Imagination: Free Investors, Efficient Markets, and Crisis”, American Anthropologist 116(1): 38-50.
Chiapello, E. 2015. “Financialization of Valuation”, Human Studies 38(1): 13-35.