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Care and STS: re‐embedding socio‐technical futures


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STS has, in recent years, seen the foregrounding of concepts of care in attempting to understand the constitution of of socio-technologies, as in, for example, the work of scholars like Annemarie Mol and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa. Despite the explicit attention such research pays to temporality, connections between care and technoscientific futures remain under-explored. This paper addresses this issue by re-appraising the connections between care, socio-technologies and futures, drawing on phenomenology, the ethics of care, and objects-relations theories to explore the relationship between practices, technologies and complex subjectivity. Performing the future in the present, it is suggested, constitutes and is constituted by specific temporal relationships between past, present and the not-yet through which subjects exercise care for the future. These relationships can be lost, in certain circumstances, in the products of the performance itself, in the quest for socially-valorized and desired 'disembedded' knowledge of futures, as manifested in demand forecasts, cost-benefit analyses, profit projections and so on. I explore how restoring an appreciation for the 'artisanal' performance of futures is essential to how innovation, and indeed governance of innovation, can be re-embedded in society as part of the broader goal of reconstructing the contract between technoscience and the societies that depend on it. Normative dimensions in STS, as addressed by recent developments such as responsible innovation ('taking care of the future' through the stewardship of technoscience, according to Stilgoe, Owen & Macnaghten, 2013), are thus brought back into the analytical frame.

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Care and STS: re‐embedding socio‐technical futures

  1. 1. Care and STS: re‐embedding socio‐technical futures Dr Christopher Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff, UK) 4S/EASST 2016, Barcelona, 31 August – 3 September
  2. 2. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
  3. 3. Now: t=0 Future: t=n
  4. 4. Care and STS RRI • Innovators’ responsibility to ‘care for the future’ (Macnaghten, Owen and Stilgoe 2013) • Make socio- technical innovation more responsive/ inclusive AnnemarieMol • The Logic of Care (2008): care as temporal structure • Subjective capability mediated by devices & infrastructures • Involves narrative – based practical reasoning MariaPuigdelaBellacasa • Care as interdependence • ‘Ontological constraint’ not ethical imperative • Potential basis of ‘somatic ethics’ for STS
  5. 5. Influence of the ethics of care RRI • Make innovation more responsive to broader range of societal needs • Ethical framework: virtue ethics rather than consequentialist • Participatory governance of technoscience in face of uncertainty AnnemarieMol • Care is co- constructed • Transactional relationship between carer(s) and cared-for • Care anticipates concrete futures through production of narratives ‘[…] people themselves (can) have knowledge about their own subjectivity; in principle they are competent to express who they are and what they need. It takes seriously people's stories about what they need to live well’ Selma Sevenhuijsen, 1998
  6. 6. Influence of the ethics of care MariaPuigdelaBellacasa • Care as interdependence • ‘Ontological constraint’ not ethical imperative • Emphasis on interdependence as survival constraint for bios • Interdependence as expression of principle of symmetry ‘[Care is] everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair “our world” so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment, all that we seek to interweave in a complex, life sustaining web. Fisher & Tronto, 1993 ‘In that sense, as permaculture care ethics consider, humans are not the only ones caring for the earth and its beings – we are in relations of mutual care.’ De la Bellacasa, 2010 ‘[Earthworms] take care of our waste, they process it so that it becomes food again.’ De la Bellacasa, 2010
  7. 7. Being care-full about care • Threat of flattening relationships • Interdependence is not identical to care • Tronto/Mol underline that care implies particular modes of subjectivity: attentiveness, responsiveness • These need to be understood explicitly as future- orientated/ anticipatory
  8. 8. Opening the debate: care and futures • Heidegger: care as future-oriented temporal structure of human being • Ethics of care adds concreteness /relationality • Care is a relational capacity through which we live interdependence, orienting us towards singular futures • Concern for material needs but also for what those cared for might come to be and be able to do ‘All active ethical life is concerned with foresight, is a life lived in the future and for the future. That is the defining essence of ethical activity.’ Nikolai Hartmann, Ethik (1926), p. 485
  9. 9. Subjectivity, attachment, meaning • Care implies investments in singular futures ▫ People, non-humans, places, institutions, practices, ideals • Life is more than survival; interdependence is more than that through which we survive ‘The meaning of our lives cannot, therefore, be understood as a search to satisfy generalizable needs for food, shelter, sex, company and so on, as if our particular relationships were simply how we had provided for them. It is more the other way round: without attachments we lose our appetite for life.’ Peter Marris, 1996
  10. 10. Caring for self and place “We've got nothing, we're a very, very quiet area, we've never had anything, the only thing we've ever had is the fact that we're rural, that you can walk outside your door and you're in country, you're in total country” “Anna”, Neath Port Talbot Dulais Valley, Neath Port Talbot
  11. 11. Caring for ideals & technologies ‘I hope we will not lose all sense of striving for the future or of interest in the undiscovered, nor refuse to make any journey unless every step can be counted and measured in advance. The road to successful and economic power stations is uncharted. I hope we can maintain our resolve to continue the exploration. ’ Sir John Hill, then head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority , 1971 (from Welsh, 2000)
  12. 12. Towards a politics of care in STS “In the global resource wars, the environmentalism of the poor is frequently triggered when an official landscape is forcibly imposed on a vernacular one” (Nixon, 2011: 17)
  13. 13. Re-embedding socio-technical futures • How do socio-technical assemblages and subjectivities participate together to constitute care for singular futures? • What individual and collective investments can be traced, and how are they shaped by ▫ subjective /collective capabilities (attachments, knowledges, affect) ▫ practices and equipment • What political effects follow from such investments?
  14. 14. Thank you for your attention