Drift 25, Rm. 302 25 Jul 2019 Contributed Papers
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science 13:30 - 15:30

The Politics of Future Images: Visions of the Future in Dutch Scientific Advisory Councils, 1967-1980
13:30 - 14:00
During the height of the Cold War, the future as an object of scientific inquiry gained traction among both Western and Eastern nations, resulting in new fields such as future studies. Yet future studies was a motley field with a variety of techniques, conceptions of the future, and political vision. The relation between state and science; between science, democracy and citizenship were constantly at stake in the images of the future that future studies provided. This paper takes a look at the institutionalization of scientific expertise on the future in the Netherlands from 1967 to 1980, and investigates the ideas on democracy, citizenship and state planning present in the competing imaginaries of the future at the time. By investigating the different modeling techniques of the different future research group active in the Netherlands during that period, I will argue that these ideas were intrinsic to the scientific practices of future researchers. Modeling was instrumental for forming images of the future, while the politics of future images informed the modeling practices. I will thus try to show that different research groups with different models also adhered to different political ideals. At the end of the paper, I want to shed some light how future research has influenced the organization of advisory councils and policy analysis by considering how modeling techniques from the 60s and 70s have been repurposed to fit neoliberal agendas.
Science Fiction Meets Reality: Hannes Alfven's 1966 Vision of Future Computers
14:00 - 14:30
A few programmable computers existed already in the 19-thirties and forties. Around 1955, larger numbers of commercially produced computers became available. In the years 1968-1974, researchers working in different fields of mathematics and physics met at international conferences with titles like `Computers in Mathematical Research' (1968) or `The Impact of Computers on Physics' (1972). To my knowledge, the Swedish-American plasma physicist Hannes Alfven (1908 - 1995) did not attend any of these meetings. Also, he did not mention computers in his Nobel Lecture in 1970. Under the pseudonym Olof Johannesson, however, he published a science fiction story about the future impact of computers, in Swedish (1966), English (1968), and in German (1970), describing how the development of computers did lead to a global world society in which everything is automated and organized by computers. Finally computers even reproduce themselves and some computers service the others and prevent the whole system from breaking down. It is amazing to read this text today: some of Alfven's predictions did become real in the meantime, others are still desirable for the future, and others are a strong warning or clearly a satire. It is unclear how much Alfven's booklet influenced the development of technology and society. In Germany, Klaus Brunnstein (1937-2015) used it in 1973 to start a public discussion about the future role of computers. Brunnstein (computer scientist, politician and IFIP officer) had strong influence on German legislation with respect to IT security, social accountability and information privacy.
A Variety of Futurologists: "Feminist" Speculative Fictions in the Wake of the Pill
14:30 - 15:00
Clustering around the introduction and proliferation of the birth control pill in 1960 U.S., I present a cultural history of this invention’s enduring consequences for the liberatory imagination through an intertextual conversation between an unexpected trio: science fiction novelist Ursula Le Guin, radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, and the Pill co-inventor Carl Djerassi. This talk explores three of their experiments—Le Guin’s 1969 novel Left Hand of Darkness, Firestone’s 1970 manifesto Dialectic of Sex, and Djerassi’s 1998 play An Immaculate Misconception—which employ speculative literary techniques to interrogate the naturalness and immutability of female sex, and to envision a radical future vis-à-vis gender, reproduction, and technology. What emerges is a distinct dialogue about a science- and technology-assisted dismantling and unmaking of the fundamental constituents and functions of biological sex. In their own way, they each feature a radical undoing and refashioning of biology, helping their readers dream of a world in which women’s biological reproductive function is not a given, presenting an alternative tech-utopian feminism that runs counter to much of the modern Western feminist tradition—finding a path to liberation via biologistic thinking. In this story about the cultural aftereffects of oral contraceptive technology, we see an instance of a larger story about the interaction between technology, speculation, and freedom. Technology and imagination can work iteratively, in tandem, in pursuit of social progress. In this case, the introduction of a new technology is the very thing which opens up an imaginary space for fantasies about future liberatory technologies.
Between "Ethics and Embryos": Reading Assisted Reproductive Technology as Material Fiction
15:00 - 15:30
From its inception, assisted reproductive technology (ART) – ranging from artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation to surrogacy and egg freezing – invoked public questions of the world to come. This constellation of emerging technologies was simultaneously credited with the disruption of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, technological control of women’s bodies, the promotion of eugenic fantasies, and the impending creation of a separatist feminist society. Following the first successful birth by in vitro fertilisation in 1978, a growing scientific and medical community coalesced around the field of ART, and joined the public in these practices of speculation and debate through their professional work and popular communication. Researchers and practitioners readily engaged questions of how and by whom these technologies would be used – and for what purposes – amid their contested efficacy and ethical status. Through their published research, public advocacy and popular memoirs, infertility treatment pioneers, including Sir Robert Edwards, and Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones, actively shaped the material and discursive contours of assisted reproduction. This paper explores how research in ART emerged with and through scientific speculation about the future of society in the United States and United Kingdom during the late 20th century. It further argues that ART occupied the position of a ‘material fiction’ whereby narratives of anticipated and unsettling futures became essential to address the practical limitations of reproductive technologies themselves. ART researchers and practitioners spoke to the popular fictions of their time, providing insight into the intersection between biomedical research and rhetoric.

Universiteit van Amsterdam
Max-Planck-Institute for Plasma Physics, Garching near Munich
Harvard University, History of Science
University of Oxford
University of Amsterdam
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
University of Lausanne


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