SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Science and technology perspectives on social progress

Professors Johan Schot, Andy Stirling and Raphie Kaplinsky, alongside Dr Saurabh Arora and Dr Cian O’Donovan, attended a conference in Lisbon on 26-28 January 2017, as part of their involvement in the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP).

The conference brought together over 250 social science and humanities scholars collaborating on the initiative’s final report: ‘Rethinking Society for the 21st Century’.

One of four special “cross-cutting” themes, the role of science and technology in social progress has been subject to special co-ordination amongst report contributors – led by Professors Schot and Helga Nowotny – and co-ordinated from SPRU.

Following their dedicated ‘Science, technology and society workshop’ in January 2016, Professor Schot and Dr O’Donovan wrote a blog for the IPSP site: ‘Rethinking Society for the 21th Century: Developing a Science and Technology Studies Perspective.’

In it, they reflect on five perspectives on science, technology and innovation which are deeply implicated not only with social progress, but how we frame and assess progress in the first place:

  1. The social and technological worlds co-produce Social Progress
  2. Many actors make innovative contributions in a myriad of ways
  3. Social progress unfolds along multiple pathways
  4. Going beyond catching up in connecting the local and the global
  5. Social progress is not given, and knowledge about it arises from social processes.

These perspectives will be embedded directly in a large number of the IPSP report’s 22 chapters, and have been discussed in a series of special events in recent months, including a dedicated plenary panel session at SPRU’s 50th Anniversary Conference on ‘Transforming Innovation’ in September 2016:

Commenting on the panel’s pertinence in today’s volatile world, Professor Stirling explains:

“Albeit highly imperfect and uneven, hard-fought struggles for social progress have delivered many benefits around the world over the past century. Yet inequality, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, fundamentalism, parochial nationalism and supremacism are now disturbingly resurgent. So there has arguably never been a more important time to take stock of what is possible – and the mismatch with what has been achieved and where things are going. Coming at this opportune moment, this is what the IPSP is all about. And whatever the limits to the value of yet another report, the spirit of cooperation, solidarity and hope in which this mammoth task is being undertaken is, in itself, inspiring.”

Further information:

Read Professor Schot and Dr O’Donovan’s blog: ‘Rethinking Society for the 21th Century: Developing a Science and Technology Studies Perspective.’

Read about the ‘Science, technology and society workshop’ in January 2016.

Find out more about the panel, and read the first draft of the IPSP report, on the IPSP website.

Follow the conversation on Twitter: @ipsprogress and #ipspSTS