The Future as Practice. A Framework to Understand Anticipation in Science and Technology

Carla Alvial-Palavicino


Abstract: The future has become a common theme in governance of contemporary societies, particularly in the context of technological development. It is presented as open and uncertain, which, either as an opportunity or as a threat, demands a sense of urgency. Concretely, the future is embodied and made present through expectations, which have a performative effect in the constitution of socio-technical fields. These expectations are embedded in socio-material practices, through which they are produced, shared, shaped and contested. In this essay, I propose a framework to understand anticipation as a set of interrelated techno-scientific practices, which I call an anticipatory assemblage. This perspective has two contributions: first, it allows an in-depth understanding of phenomena such as technological hype cycles. Secondly, it frames the performative aspect of expectations in relation to governance, by considering how a series of anticipatory practices co-produce techno-scientific fields. I specify this framework using the case of two emerging technologies: graphene and 3D printing, for which I stress some of the differences in anticipatory practices and governance.

Keywords: anticipation; sociology of expectations; governance; anticipatory practices; futures.

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