Recent years have been marked by uncertainty and instability, as the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and communities, transactions and supply chains, customs and rituals. Possible pathways to what we once called the future seem to open and close rapidly from one moment to the next. Constellations of rights and responsibilities – and sites of jurisdiction for defining them – shift daily in relation to new knowledge claims and accompanying uncertainties. Calls to seize the opportunity presented by this crisis abound across projects of techno-political transformation: Can we maintain the dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions that we witnessed during the height of the pandemic? Can scientists harness public optimism from vaccine breakthroughs and help quickly implement projects of bioeconomic transformation? Will this new perspective legitimate funding and creation of more public goods such as enlarged public green spaces and cycling infrastructures? Will governments and the private sector seize the opportunity to collaborate in creating new biopolitical regimes of data collection, knowledge, and control?
The current pandemic is only one in a series of destabilizing events that have jarringly transformed the world across so many dimensions. A little more than a decade ago, recession propagated across the world, spreading from the US to Europe and beyond, as the Euro faltered while nations succumbed to debt crisis. People lost homes, lost livelihoods, lost trust in governments and questioned their own presumed sources of stability. More recently, the record-setting heat waves of summer 2021, in Canada first and in Southern Europe afterwards, along with unprecedented floods in Northwestern Europe, have come as emphatic warnings of what the most recent IPCC report has dramatically spelled out: we are already well beyond the point of no-return in the climate crisis.
In such moments, the modes by which human interconnectedness are constructed are made visible as sociotechnical systems at risk. Many argue that these events demand drastic changes in social, economic, and political orders. Defining the shape of those changes and spurring progress toward them proves elusive. Even as the central organizing principles of human cohabitation and governance are fundamentally challenged, many patterns of thought, of vision, of knowledge about the world and intervention in it maintain striking forms of continuity.
Such existential crises bring the contingent politics of the future to center-stage. The forms of knowledge and expertise that have played powerful roles in governing human societies are again in question, and the ostensibly laudable progression of technological innovation has become subject to broader critical inquiry, revealed as complex, controversially constructed sociotechnical scaffolding. The political dimensions of technoscience have temporarily been made widely visible and compelling.
Today, at the threshold of an unknown post-pandemic scenario, at the very moment in which new paths are being conceived, opened and resisted, there is an urgent need to produce knowledge about those whose visions of a better future dominate public narratives. At stake are the forms of social order that will become once again naturalized, what questions get asked, and what forms of silence and silencing are legitimated. Observing our worlds as constructed by a multitude of different agencies, by collectively shared imaginations as well as by institutionalized forms of order and reason, spotlights our own roles as knowledge producers, performers of unseen scripts, and agents of change. If we indeed contribute to shaping the very dynamics we engage in our studies, then an ambitious, outward facing yet reflexive, critical and constructive STS agenda is our responsibility, both in the sense of response-ability and of becoming-with.
Critical examination of the dynamics by which knowledge and social orders are co-produced make visible the normative agendas and corresponding rationalities that are mobilized to govern in times of collective crisis. Elucidation of the interactions and transactions envisioned to be systemic necessities, and the imaginaries that mobilize capital and collective action must be put in conversation with alternative knowledges and visions, emerging modes of resistance and unseen strategies of world-making at the margins. We call for the examination and multiplication of possible futures of all kinds, for the study of sites of epistemic and political prescriptions for action, as well as mechanisms by which alternatives are made invisible or undesirable.
A closer study of the dynamics by which the past and the present are known and correspondingly acted on and redescribed in the name of better futures, is an urgent task for an STS community that embraces its potential to transform the world as it studies it. We would like to seize the opportunity of EASST 2022 to address this call, inviting scholars from our community to rise to the occasion of collective destabilization to engage critically and creatively with the technoscientific politics of futures.
Local and scientific committees of EASST 2022 MADRID