EASTT/4S 2020 conference presentations

18 August 2020
institutional change

Presentations of MAGIC outcomes at the EASTT/4S 2020 conference 'Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds', 18-21 August 2020.

1. Kovacic Z & Ripa M (2020), The biofuel promise: examining policy expectations around liquid biofuels over twenty years, presentation at the EASTT/4S 2020 conference 'Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds', 18 August 2020 (Session 022: STS, Technoscience and How Discontinuation Matters II).

Abstract: Biofuels have been promoted in European policy since the early 2000s. In the beginning, they were touted as a promising solution to multiple challenges: reducing emissions, ensuring energy security in Europe and helping farmers find new markets for their products. The story of biofuels of the last two decades, however, has been surrounded by multiple controversies. The widespread and constant support to biofuel policies is surprising from a scientific point of view, since the promises of biofuels have been contested both in terms of lessons learned and in scientific terms (contrasting scientific evidence). Despite the controversy, the institutional support for biofuels has remained remarkably strong in the international political agendas. Building on the sociology of expectations, we focus on the ‘emerging’ biofuels narratives and how they changed over time. The aim of this work is to shed light on the mechanisms that give continuity to certain promises or trigger change in order to explore the role of this innovation in policy. This case study shows at once: (1) a discontinuity in terms of narratives and policies that support biofuels (from minimum use targets to maximum use targets), and (2) a continued support for biofuels as an innovation that avoids the political stall of recognising dependence on fossil fuels for liquid fuels. We argue that the support of biofuels is better understood with regard to the institutional needs this innovation promises to fulfil, rather than with regard to what has been delivered. For this reason, we emphasize the role of expectations.

2. Strand R, Völker T & Kovacic Z (2020), Uncomfortable Knowledge and Non-Action as Ways to Care, presentation at the EASTT/4S 2020 conference 'Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds', 18 August 2020 (Session 041: ‘Not doing’ in times of crisis: agency and the urgency of pause and restraint).

Abstract: For more than 20 years, the author and his colleagues have explored non-action-oriented roles as STS scholars involved in and around action-oriented research and policy (e.g. in bio- and nanotechnology, cancer research, research policy-making, environmental management and nexus governance). Our contributions have been designated “post-normal science”; “ELSI/ELSA” research; “ethics”; “Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI)”; et cetera. We have raised unwelcome questions without answers; produced uncomfortable knowledge (sensu Steve Rayner) that undermined assumptions of action-oriented institutional practices; and perhaps decreased actors’ certainty about what is True and Good. What kind of practice is this, and what type of work does it do? Over the years, the author has come to identify with Zhuangzi’s ancient tale about Confucius and Yan Hui, and how to give advice to the King: that less is more, that one should refrain from having strategies, and that the virtuous posture is that which Zhuangzi calls “the fasting of the mind”, emptying oneself of plans and desires. In the context of the Norwegian Centre for Digital Life, RRI was perhaps most successful when it was untidy and unplanned. In the context of nexus governance (through the Horizon 2020 project MAGIC), we have theorized how the Daoist notion of wuwei, non-action, may provide clues to how escape the constraints of action bias and instrumental rationality that seem to obstruct and block opportunities for institutional and social change.