This June, I am co-convening a panel called Dreams for the Future: technocracy, utopianism, fantasy, anxiety at the Danish STS Conference in Aarhus, with my colleagues Marisa Cohn and Ingmar Lippert. The conference is called Interpellating Futures, and will have Prof. Isabelle Stengers and Prof. Nikolas Rose as keynote speakers. I will be speaking about some of the dreams for the future of biomedical ethical review – standardized, technologic, realtime and otherwise – shared with me during my doctoral fieldwork across South and East Asia.

Here’s the abstract:


Technocratic thought goes hand in hand with dreams. Or so claimed Annelise Riles, anthropologist of Japanese high finance. This session centers dreaming as a generative practice, taking off from Boyer’s complaint in 2008 that few studies ‘took seriously the place of desire, fantasy and anxiety in the production of expert knowledge’ (2008:43). In this session, dreams are centered as devices of future making, templates of possibilities possessed by individuals, shared or disputed in groups or organizations. We invite papers which closely examine how actors dream futures for themselves, their workplaces, their professions and their entire fields of endeavour.

First, we call for papers that interrogate what dreaming is and does. Described by Riles as ‘everyday utopianism’, ‘predicated on a distance between the world as others see it and the world as it could be’ (2011: 178), we look for accounts of how dreaming compels, persuades, or prompts action. How do dreams interrupt existing patterns of practice? In what artifacts do people make dreams material, and what technologies prompt dreams of altered futures? How do we, as analysts, identify and work with people who dream, and what different positions (activist critical, partisan) can and should the STS scholar take, relative to the dreamers s/he encounters?

Second, we ask authors to consider dreams which disintegrate or fail. What forces threaten a dream? Where do fantasies for futures break down, and with what consequences? When do anxieties about futures fuel further dreaming, and when do they erode its momentum? Where are the graveyards of fallen dreams, – in organizational history, old reports, unmade prototypes – and what hold – as past futures – do they have over the present?

Third, we want to juxtapose dreams as contrasting strategies. Some dreams deliberately align present day interests with hoped-for-futures, others depart radically from recognizable presents. We are interested in dreams which target control and discipline, as well those of hope and emancipation. Papers may foreground and analyze investments in dreams of technological salvation, and their concomitant dreams of transformation, or dreams which turn towards the nightmarish.

Finally, we challenge authors, if they choose, to develop dreaming as an analytic. What is the difference between dreaming and merely imagining: do they imply differing degrees of commitment, hope, vision? Common enough in STS material as a field concept, we also invite conceptual contributions which explore the potential of dream to expose the vital virtuality of futures, to differentiate dreaming from imagination, and investigate the way dreams merge present and future. If dreaming is a form of caring for the future, what does it demand of those who must act in the present? By collecting STS accounts of actors, their dreams and practices, this stream will focus analytical attention on the ‘otherwises’ already present in our  everyday.


Submit a proposal here