Anticipation conceives of the future as both fundamentally open and inevitable and demands actions in the here and now to change the course of events. Until now, “anticipation” has been addressed in two different ways. Some authors describe the general future-orientedness of contemporary societies (Adams et al. 2009; Mackenzie 2013; see also Dolez et al. 2019) and highlight distinctive “logics of anticipation”: e.g. precaution, preemption, and preparedness (Anderson 2010). Conversely, other scholars have introduced anticipation as a specific mode of futurity which particularly hinges on contingency and complexity and ultimately on the impossibility of controlling future developments (Alvial-Palavicino 2015). In this understanding, anticipation sits somewhat uneasily between attempts to predict, know, and control the future on the one hand and acknowledging the impossibility of doing so on the other.
The RTG seeks to empirically extend and conceptually advance these partially conflicting and partially intersecting perspectives. It is guided by the assumption that in contemporary societies anticipation is becoming more and more bound up with concrete technoscientific practices that allow for the pursuit of some futures and “world-orders” (Andersson and Kemp 2021: 4), while others are suspended or even foreclosed. We focus on “technologies of anticipation” as a larger frame through which to explore the plurality and diversity of contemporary practices of making futures. By focusing on technologies, our research will therefore target the practical enactments of anticipation and investigate the interplay of two distinctive dimensions of anticipatory practices that engage in fixing futures: “stabilisation” and “repair”.
The RTG seeks to analyse how technologies of anticipation narrow down contingencies and fix futures through strategies of stabilisation and repair – while always remaining open to contestation and conflict. Understanding anticipation this way necessarily raises that which is unanticipated and thus the potential making of alternative futures. Thus, the RTG attends to the power asymmetries and operational tensions involved in the enactment of anticipatory practices to inquire which forms of life are to be protected, enhanced, or saved (and which are excluded, marginalised, or destroyed) (Anderson 2010; Collier and Lakoff 2015). Such a take also demonstrates the need to explore and understand what kinds of expertise and knowledge are valued in fixing practices, and who controls the capacities to shape the future within the present, prevailing over the “‘means of anticipation’” (Aykut et al. 2019: 4; see also Groves 2017). Which issues become “matters of concern” (Latour 2004) or “matters of care” (Puíg de la Bellacasa 2017) to be addressed in anticipatory practices, and who has the power to define them? So far, the ambivalent dynamics of future-making and “future-taking” (Adam 2021) remain empirically underexplored.
The RTG will explore technologies of anticipation in three research areas: economic practices, modes of government, and processes of life. While the research fields relate to distinct empirical spheres, they also intersect and overlap in many ways.
The first research field of Fixing Futures deals with economies and conceives of them as socio-material configurations that cope with uncertainty. Economic decisions are always confronted with the condition of unknown futures; they have to rely on technologies of anticipation and employ “fictional expectations” as present imaginaries of future situations (Beckert 2016). Moreover, capitalist economies operate through a logic of permanent expansion that incessantly needs to find new fields of investment and speculation. The omnipresence of uncertainty in economic processes introduces instability and fragility, and the challenge of how to preserve social attachment to the general model of economic development as well as to concrete strategies and projects.
Despite continuous efforts to stabilise the economy, market failure is by no means accidental or exceptional but deeply engrained in the working of capitalist accumulation, as David Harvey (2001) and many others have shown. Still, in spite of repeated breakdowns of sectoral markets and the persistence of crises, markets remain the predominant technology for tackling the uncertain future of economies and, paradoxically, market solutions are deployed to repair the (anticipated) negative effects of the market principle. They express the economy’s capacity to regulate itself precisely through recurrent crises and countering the unintended consequences of markets with ever new rounds of marketisation.
Where unintended effects brought about by the working of the market principle are identified and need to be repaired, interference in existing market configurations often goes hand in hand with a reordering of modes of attachment and detachment. This becomes most strikingly clear where the relationship between society, nature, and economy is at stake. In this context, attachment as a “liability”, an “obligation from the past that is brought to bear on the present” (Hennion 2017: 112), is increasingly related to nothing less but the earth we inhabit, which is threatened by the current economic mode of production and consumption. Our “life in capitalist ruins” (Tsing 2015) calls for the design of more-than-human economies (Barua 2019a, b) and for radically alternative economic futures to repair the increasingly obvious consequences of current trajectories. Struggles for post-capitalist economies; no-growth approaches; the multifarious spectre of sharing and community economies; and recent discussions about expropriations all bear the ambivalent quality of being both strands of critique to repair the future shape of concrete markets and counter-movements for future economies beyond the market (Roelvink et al. 2015).Text with summary
Studying attempts to fix futures opens up the analysis of technologies and medialities to political questions concerning which ways of life are preferred or to be avoided. Additionally, the notion of stabilisation sheds light on how technologies of anticipation mobilise resources and direct public attention. Governmental agencies, by their future-makings, declare a set of problems as the primary ones meaning that other problems that have not been selected, or indeed have been forcefully excluded or suppressed, will not be on the agenda. The featured future is backwards-oriented in terms of past presents where certain obstacles have not yet been recognised and realised.
As a field, governance offers research opportunities to investigate how expert as well as lay knowledges (Hänel et al. 2021), together with technologies and techniques, are implicated in anticipation (Groves 2017). It is also concerned with the question of how expectations derive from these socio-material practices (Alvial-Palavicino 2015) and how “sociotechnical imaginaries” (Jasanoff and Kim 2015) are “animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in science and technology” (ibid.: 4). Furthermore, future-making in public policy and governance is not merely confined to imagining possible, desirable, and competing futures and to implementing policies to that effect; it has a technical, infrastructural, and indeed necessarily material dimension that makes it particularly important (Barry 2001; 2013; Marres and Lezaun 2011; Asdal 2014).
On a global scale, especially in the realm of climate engineering and governance of environmental sustainability, more attention is also being paid to emerging “future objects” such as foresight conferences (Esguerra 2019) or climate summits (Laux 2017). This research is slowly shifting the characteristics of anticipation politics towards more speculative approaches. Another globally relevant policy domain where predictive expertise and expectation work are becoming increasingly important is the need to avert widespread food scarcities (Brandl 2017) as one of the expected long-term effects of climate change. The concern with future food insecurities is also an important driver of agri-environmental governance, food quality policies, local and regional development in Europe, as efforts are made to repair the detrimental effects of 20th century modernisation (Welz 2012; 2015; 2018). Therefore, the notions of modernity, progress and growth that dominated visions of societal futures throughout the 20th century have recently shifted towards the notion of sustainability.
The notion of sustainability implies an orientation to the future that acknowledges both the vital needs of future generations and those of the biosphere. While the concept of sustainability is heterogeneous and contradictory (Neckel et al. 2018), it has been taken up in a large number of research programmes and disciplines. Most recently, the concept of the Anthropocene has prominently posited the present as a tipping point between past and future (Knox 2020). Despite its status as a contested geological time period, the urgency evoked by the Anthropocene concept is nonetheless altering understandings of politics and governance by foregrounding the more-than-human (Biermann 2014; Dryzek and Pickering 2018; Bornemann 2019), raising important questions of agency, accountability, and ecological justice as a geosocial issue (Latour 2018).
The third research field of Fixing Futures is concerned with the ways in which ecologies of life shape and change anticipatory temporalities and practices. Technoscientific options are often connected with forms of prediction, prevention, or preparedness that suggest security and reliability, employing infrastructures and devices of calculation and control (Klausner et al. 2015; Niewöhner 2015a; Murphy 2017). These strategies of stabilisation not only inform several forms of neurobiological or genetic diagnosis, but are also evident in the recent upturn of cryobiology.
As more and more types of tissues and cellular material can be frozen, stored, and thawed again without any detectable loss of vitality, cryobiological practices not only become an important infrastructural prerequisite for many medical applications and a significant driver for innovations in the life sciences but also represent crucial options for individual family planning decisions (Martin 2010; van de Wiel 2015), regenerative therapies (Haw 2016), and the preservation of global biodiversity (van Dooren 2017). In keeping the vital processes of body parts and organic substances in a liminal state between life and death, these practices produce a specific form of life, “suspended life” (Lemke 2021a).
Against the backdrop of global warming, environmental destruction, and mass extinction more and more attempts to use science, technology, and engineering to repair and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services are emerging. Initiatives such as floating barriers for filtering (micro-)plastic out of the oceans or techniques for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere in order to mitigate global warming are but a few examples of this trend (Keith 2009; Sigler 2014). Privileging an “environmental fix” (Braun 2015: 2), these approaches address the problems of climate change and ecological devastation by suggesting, for example, interventions in the shape of geoengineering and terraforming (Lynas 2012; Hartman 2017), the strategic use of transgenic organisms (Holmberg 2010; Kinchy 2012), or the resurrection of extinct species by genetic and reproductive technologies (O’Connor 2015; Shapiro 2015), raising important societal, ethical, and ecological questions. Repairing, here, often involves a strong affective side as the target of fixing is that which ‘we’ care about and hence want to conserve. Caring, however, is an inherently ambivalent practice, “a human trouble, but this does not make of care a human-only matter” (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017: 2). It is for this reason that the practices of fixing also prompt our attention to the interconnectedness and interdependence of humans and other life forms, providing scholars in STS with novel tools and concepts for exploring questions of life and death in a more-than- human world (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010; Locke and Muenster 2015; Barla and Hubatschke 2018; Lemke 2021b). In their aim of conserving not only life but also specific modes of production and reproduction, both dimensions of future-making are characterised by a double movement: in the very moment that we attempt to fix the future, we are running the risk of being fixed by the very future we enact.