SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Rethinking Society for the 21st Century

On the 13-14 January 2016 Helga Nowotny and Johan Schot will host a workshop in Hannover, Germany. Participants at the workshop will discuss how a science and technology studies perspective can help rethink society and find solutions to ensure social progress in the 21st century in the context of the work of the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP).

In a world where disparities in wellbeing, resources and power are widening, the IPSP project will explore how we can make a better society for the 21st century by ensuring a respect for human dignity, seeking social justice and raising well-being.

IPSP brings together hundreds of experts to produce a report addressed to all social actors, movements, organizations, politicians and decision-makers, in order to provide them with the best expertise on questions that bear on social change.

The report will look at a wide range of issues and include numerous perspectives. However, technology and innovation is one of four cross-cutting themes that bears upon all identified issues and should frame the approach to challenges and opportunities in different areas of social life.

Professor Schot explains why:

"Science and technology are deeply implicated - both positively and negatively - in the key challenges of the world today; from climate change, war and economic crises to education, democracy and health. The crucial issue is therefore how can innovation policies shape transformative change towards sustainable development, social justice and human dignity. Working on the IPSP report will make it possible to develop our thinking about what I call ‘Deep Transitions’, which focuses on redefining Capitalism through a coordinated structural transformation of energy, mobility, healthcare, agriculture and food socio-technical systems, among others."

The workshop will bring together leading and early career science and technology studies scholars engaged in the IPSP initiative to discuss perspectives and generate knowledge. With members of SPRU attending: Andy Stirling, Saurabh Arora, Raphie Kaplinsky and Cian O’ Donovan, the workshop is also an excellent opportunity for SPRU to develop its thinking on ‘Transforming Innovation’.

The outcomes of the workshop will be discussed further in plenary sessions at several international conferences including the forthcoming Society for the History of Technology annual conference in Singapore (June 22-26), the EASST/4S Conference in Barcelona (September 1-14) as well as via blog posts.  

Helga Nowotny said:

“Bringing a STS perspective to the wide range of issues to be dealt with by IPSP is crucial for understanding how the twinning of modern science and the belief in social progress has evolved. Today, the waning belief in progress has been replaced by a dazzling array of measurements, indicators and benchmarks intent to show what progress has been or is yet to be achieved. This governance by numbers eclipses the fact that progress assumes multiple forms and how to reach it. It fails to recognize the many possibilities of sliding back.

"Analyzing the role played by science and technology and its practices includes ‘the capacity to aspire’ and the interplay between social and technological imaginaries. It addresses major transformations and changing power structures. Today, humanity faces a future that is as radically open as it is intrinsically uncertain. Science and technology are part of it, for better or worse.”

Helga Nowotny is co-chair of the IPSP Scientific Council of which Johan Schot is a member. Helga Nowotny is Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 22 - The Contributions of Social Sciences to Policy and Institutional Change, while Johan Schot is lead author of this chapter as well as of Chapter 1 on Social Trends and New Geographies.

Find out more

IPSP website

Video Spotlight: Shelia Jasanoff explains the relevance of the field of science and technology studies to the question of progress, including social progress, and introduces to her own work at the boundary of law on change, on technology controversies, and on how science is being made when it is meant to contribute to policy-making.

Video of keynote address on ‘Transforming Innovation Policy’ by Professor Johan Schot, Director of SPRU, Oct 2014



*Image in box courtesy of barnyz, Flickr (under Creative Commons licence)