Conference Agenda

RS10_05: Enacting Futures
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Daniel Welch, University of Manchester
Location: UP.2.217
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Second Floor Oxford Road


Re-imaging Domestic Futures as Collective Temporal Rhythms: A Critical Analysis of Smart Home Technologies.

Dale Southerton

University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Ideas of the smart home are not new but have been re-invigorated given recent innovations in digital technologies, algorithms that capture micro data about personal preferences and habits, and digital platforms that offer new ways of provisioning goods and services. This paper explores representations of future domestic lives found in accounts of electronic personal assistant devices and automated kitchen appliances. Such representations reveal three fundamental assumptions about the social world, that: a lack of time persists as a major threat to everyday well-being; technologies are the solution; and, consumption is a matter of individual decision making. Smart homes promise greater individual control, autonomy and automation of the micro-coordination of (routine) actions in objective time (time conceptualised as independent of human activity) and are therefore assigned to the future as inevitabilities. In turn, significant business and policy resources are mobilised, often legitimated as matters of ‘progress’ towards more sustainable (in terms of well-being and resource efficient) forms of social organisation. Insights from social practice theory undermine all three fundamental assumptions about the social world by insisting that: time is not independent of human action; materialities (including technologies) are always contingent on the configuration of practices; and, consumption is shaped (or constrained) by the interconnections of social practices. This paper argues that it is these processes that shape domestic lives today and will do so in the future, that they can be usefully analysed as collective temporal rhythms, and that doing so present very different ‘future potentials’ for smart home technologies.

Enacting Drone Futures: Socio-technical Imagineering of the Civilian Drone Industry

Domen Bajde, Alev Kuruoglu, Mikkel Nøjgaard, Jannek Sommer

University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

This paper investigates socio-technical imagineering - i.e., the (re)production and circulation of socio-technical imaginaries (STIs) - as an enactment of the future. While previous research has foremost looked at STIs as relatively stable formations manifested through “active exercises of state power” (Jasanoff and Kim 2009, 123), we wish to draw attention to the ongoing work of various imagineers who have a stake in the development of technology markets and industries. We thus investigate the manifestations of socio-technical imagineering by firms, consultancies, and other actors who envision technology futures.

We use the case of the emergent civilian drone industry to address the following questions: Who are the imagineers that craft and circulate (sometimes competing or conflicting) visions of how drone technology and the development of the civic drone industry will change society and our daily lives? How do these actors enact drone futures? We address these questions through qualitative analysis of the discursive manifestations of socio-technical imagineering (e.g., industry promotion, consultancy reports, media texts).

We outline four modes of imagineering through which drone futures are enacted: 1) Presencing the future (relating the future to the present, and establishing the certainty of the future), 2) Questioning the future (establishing and addressing concerns related to drone use), 3) Prospecting the future (establishing the prospect of drones as a technology for good, an efficient and transformative technology of endless possibilities), 4) Enjoining the future (embedding/detaching the drone future into/from other futures).

Epistemological Synergy: Futuring As Sustainable Enactment Through A Public Sociology

Maria Patsarika1, Scott Townsend2

1The American College of Thessaloniki, Greece; 2North Carolina State University, College of Design, USA

Public sociology raises issues of the public roles it plays, accountability and integrity of the various epistemologies used, and disciplinary constraints through the ever increasing complexity of social issues at the intersection between local/global. Nevertheless, specializations within and across the social sciences present possibilities of multidisciplinary perspectives and levels of engagement with the public (Bridger and Alter 2010). Negotiating disciplinary boundaries is necessary to remediate “wicked problems” inherent in contemporary and future social ills especially in terms of futuring within the public sphere. Paraphrasing Bell (2009), we address the question “How can social scientists (and others) enter this public sphere working effectively with wicked social problems and questions of futuring across allied disciplines?” We propose a synergistic engaged scholarship (Kleidman 2006) through the crossroads of public sociology and “design as social innovation/transition design” (Manzini 2015, Irwin 2018). This shifts the focus away from the maintenance of each discipline’s identity to leveraging epistemologies within the social “context-at-hand.” Public sociology and social innovation/transition design provide a range of theoretical and applicable perspectives under the rubric of sustainablity, tracing connections back to initiatives such as the “Transition Town” movement (Seyfang and Smith 2007). Such practices are envisioned as communal between multidisciplinary experts and “diffuse” local knowledge (Manzini 2015), a form of collective futuring that catalyzes community self sufficiency as an ongoing iterative process. Lastly we will show the application of various methods used to discuss and negotiate different epistemologies in our current work with service learning and public sociology/design as social innovation.

Future-Forging the Networks of Tomorrow: Building the Quantum Internet

Juljan Krause

University of Southampton, United Kingdom

This paper analyses how the future is mobilised in global efforts to define the use-value and application spaces of the quantum internet, a novel network in the making. Based on a radically different computer architecture, the quantum internet promises an exponential rise in computational capacity and processing power. Recognising the strategic potential of quantum tech, governments across the world have begun investing heavily in this technology. In the burgeoning quantum arms race, China has quickly established a leadership position, which is causing considerable anxieties in the West.

This paper first introduces the fundamentals of quantum computing to a non-specialist audience. It then presents results from a qualitative study of popular science magazines, government and industry publications that investigates how quantum futures are mobilised in the present. It will be argued that actors strategically circulate ‘heavy futures’ in order to gain the upper hand in defining what a future quantum internet will do. Quantum networks are either portrayed as unimaginably destructive or as solving many of the world’s pressing problems. Discourses of quantum tech attest to complex practices of future-forging by which the not-yet becomes materially active in the present; the global quantum arms race attempts to mould technology futures even before they emerge. Reflecting on conceptual and methodological concerns in STS and sociology, the final section of this paper argues for considering future-forging a powerful practice that aims to cement the trajectories that potentially highly disruptive network technologies of the future can take.