Why We All Need to Be Thinking about Technoscience and Society

University of Toronto Press is delighted to announce a brand new book series called Technoscience and Society, with the first books due to publish next year. The series encourages shorter, punchier scholarly books providing a cross-over forum in which both established researchers and new and emerging scholars can present their assessments on the changing relationship between technoscience and society. In this post, series editor Kean Birch discusses what we can expect from the new series.

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By Kean Birch

I thought long and hard about how to write a blog post like this without reference to the Coronavirus pandemic, but I’ve failed! It’s almost impossible to ignore the wholesale transformation of our societies over the last year – it seems longer somehow – and to connect everything in our lives to this pandemic. I want to try, though. To go beyond the pandemic, and to think about the futures we might envision and make after we get through this. And I will deliberately leave out any notion of “returning” to normality, as we all know that’s not going to happen.

So, here’s me introducing a new book series on Technoscience and Society.

As the series flyer notes, our societies are increasingly defined by the outputs of labs, hospitals, universities, etc., as much as our societies have themselves become experimental sites for these scientific and technological pursuits, whether as so-called “living labs” or testbeds for the next digital platform someone has thought up to make our lives seemingly easier. Thinkers in science and technology studies – or science, technology, and society – talk about technoscience as a particular configuration of social power underpinned by the knowledge claims, practices, processes, and sites of science and technology. It’s an argument that technoscience is social, just as society is technoscientific. Just one example of this inter-relationship are the debates on the social, ethical, and political-economic deployment of new technologies in the pursuit of responsible and inclusive innovation, perhaps best epitomised by the back-and-forth around the now-defunct Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto.

Here, we have to ask challenging questions of science and technology. If our futures are technoscientific, then what sorts of technoscientific futures should we make? How do we and how should we understand them? We desperately need new and improved analytical tools to answer these questions, as well as new empirical insights into the changing technoscientific world around us. And this book series is one attempt to generate these much-needed tools and insights.

Our futures are uncertain in large part because of the changing relationship between technoscience and society – no-one saw the Coronavirus coming, for example. But we can’t forget about all the other pressing issues we currently face. Artificial intelligence offers enormous technoscientific promise but raises critical concerns about the social biases underpinning it, or its influence on our politics and political processes. Big Tech firms provide us with a seeming cornucopia of new products and services but at the cost of exploiting our personal data, our privacy, and our identities. The same could be said for new genomic sciences; they could contribute to a huge improvement in healthcare, but all of these benefits could also be locked up behind intellectual property rights and limited to the few. In contrast, the push behind low-carbon technologies like electrified public transit are essential for addressing climate change but they threaten the way we currently organize our societies, especially the car-dependent suburb. Last here, but by no means least, we have to think about how to unsettle continuing forms of colonialism and the colonial technoscience that buttresses it in our societies, which means challenging our own preconceptions as much as anything else.

The Technoscience and Society series does not have a preferred approach or topic for understanding this relationship between technoscience and society; rather, it welcomes submissions from diverse perspectives and on a variety of substantive topics. Foundational to its objectives, though, is an emphasis on the social and humanistic studies of science, technology, and innovation, broadly defined as science and technology studies. The series encourages shorter, punchier books, hopefully crossing the often-cavernous divide between academia and public debate, but all formats are welcome.

So please send us proposals for engaging and accessible books! Proposals and enquiries for further information can be submitted to Kean Birch at kean@yorku.ca or Stephen Jones at sjones@utorontopress.com.

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Editorial Board

Kelly Bronson | Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Science and Society, University of Ottawa, Canada
Alessandro Delfanti | Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Canada
Joan Fujimura Martindale-Bascom | Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA
Jessica Kolopenuk | Assistant Professor, University of Alberta, Canada
Linsey McGoey | Professor, University of Essex, UK
Ruth Muller | Associate Professor, Technical University Munich, Germany
Fabian Muniesa | Professor, Mines ParisTech, France
Michelle Murphy | Canada Research Chair in Science and Technology Studies and Environmental Data Justice (Tier I), University of Toronto, Canada
Shobita Parthasarathy | Professor of Public Policy, University of Michigan, USA
Jathan Sadowski | Research Fellow, Monash University, Australia
David Tyfield | Professor of Sustainable Transitions and Political Economy, Lancaster University, UK
Malte Ziewitz | Assistant Professor, Cornell University, USA

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