Innovation Residues – Modes and infrastructures of caring for our longue-durée environmental futures (INNORES)

Duration 5 years; starting date to be decided

Team: Ulrike Felt (PI), team to be hired during summer 2022

Funding: European Commission, Horizon Europe - ERC Advanced Grant 

Description

Innovation residues designate those left-behinds of innovations that profoundly shape human lives as they stay with us for a long time–well beyond moments of production and consumption, and well beyond the time horizons considered when assessing the worth of innovations. Residues are material witnesses to culture and practice of innovation, to diverse politics at work, and to the limited attention to long-term sustainable futures in a world predominantly shaped by short-term impact thinking. 

 

Today, as technological innovations are seen as foundational to the future development of contemporary societies, the entanglements of innovation and society require closer scrutiny more than ever. INNORES offers a novel, empirically and theoretically rich approach to do so through a radically switched perspective. It does not put innovations themselves centre-stage, assigning to residues the role of potentially disruptive side-effects, but takes residues as the lens to study democratic innovation societies. It investigates how societies conceptualise, make sense of, live with, and care for innovation residues, and how this shapes their relations to innovation. Studying innovation societies through the complex networks and manifestations of residues, INNORES opens up new perspectives on how local choices and global impacts relate, on intergenerational justice and responsibility, on whose future imaginaries, values, and knowledges count when making choices, on how benefits and risks are distributed, and on modes and infrastructures of care for environmental futures. 

 

INNORES engages with three very different kinds of residuesnuclear waste, microplastics and data waste. Using a specifically tailored qualitative, comparative mixed-method approach, it investigates them in different arenas spanning three European countries and the EU. Studying these particular sites in detail will then allow to trace out connections to and implications for innovation societies more generally.

 

 

Engagements of INNORES

Responsible innovation, experimentation and matters of care: How do actors express situated visions of responsibility and care in settings which could be classified as real-world experiments?

INNORES contributes to these discussions by developing an empirically grounded understanding of modes of care and responsibility and the infrastructures put in place to sustain these modes of care with regard to innovation residues. In this context, we also address questions of intergenerational justice. How all this varies across technopolitical cultures will help us point to the tensions we find when a global problem is translated into more local/regional forms of politics.

Orders of worth and valuation constellations: How do actors in different environments, constellations and situations produce, assess, distribute and negotiate the diverse dimensions of worth of innovation? And, how is this related to their perception and understanding of residues?

INNORES closely investigates valuation practices and constellations across different sites by elaborating how technopolitical histories matter in different national contexts and how the relation between the often-called-for, shared European values,  and locally entrenched value systems looks in practice; by studying how waste/wasting and value are balanced; and by seeing how local and global value considerations get articulated.

Assembling residues: Multiplicity and coordination: How are residues assembled to become matters of care? Where are the sites in which these assemblages are made and who gets a voice?

INNORES offers a detailed analysis of the ontological politics of problem framing in different constellations. This will produce novel insights into competing framings and how specific frames can gain more powerful, morally acceptable positions and sideline others. It will elaborate how life with residues is imagined and practiced in different technopolitical cultures. However, we will also elaborate on the contradictions, frictions, etc., we observe.

Caring for our futures – Imagination and anticipation: What role do future visions play when making choices related to innovations and their residues? And what are the temporal horizons which enter these considerations?

INNORES delivers deep insights into the way temporalities matter when assessing the worth of innovations in relation to the residues they produce, and when modes of care are implemented. In particular, we will investigate the concrete time horizons that are embedded into discourses on the future of innovation societies. The aim is to develop the concept of long-durée futures, to show the complexity of imagining and caring for futures that stretch well beyond anything we have experienced or can imagine.

Europe and Three Countries – A multidimensional comparison

Comparison will be achieved through

=> three case studies of innovation residues: nuclear waste, microplastics, and data waste.

=> three national contexts (France, Ireland and Austria) and the supranational level of the European Union.

The countries were chosen for their differences in technopolitical cultures and their history of dealing with these innovations (e.g., France’s nuclear focus; Ireland’s presence in data centre industry; Austria’s anti-nuclear position and digitization efforts; different ways of governing microplastics in the three countries). Complementing these three contexts with a study of European discussions and regulatory efforts is an asset; it shows how the European debate frames and is being framed by national contexts. This allows us to understand similarities and differences in the value constellations at work and how seemingly shared approaches might play out rather differently in practice.

=> different arenas of debate: policy, expert and civic arenas will allow us to see the multiplicity both within each national setting and the specificities of performances and framings of the residues across areas emerging from situated thought styles and value registers.

The analysis will engage in a multi-dimensional comparison. This will not mean simply comparing countries. Rather, comparison allows us to be attentive to diverse modalities of difference and to forge new connections between residues, persons, institutions and many other elements. This will help us to extract the many different ways of living with and (not) caring for residues and make neglected dimensions visible.

Three Residues to Follow through Innovation Societies

These three residues - nuclear waste, microplastic and "data waste" – all stem from major fields of innovations that shaped our societies since mid-20th century. They were chose due to their different histories and materialities, they have all long-term impacts. Yet, they are governed very differently and the modalities and infrastructures of care are fundamentally different.

Nuclear Waste

Nuclear waste is in many ways the icon for those residues that bring complex longue-term environmental futures with them and where expectations that a technical fix solving the problem will be found have been circulating for more than three quarters of a century. There is a rich body of literature addressing aspects such as protests, trust and participation around nuclear waste facilities, or regulatory efforts, some even speak of nuclearity. Studies, however, remain focused on specific phenomena not connecting them to wider questions of innovation and innovation choices. Choices around nuclear technologies and the related waste are framed as a national/local issue of confinement and control, despite their potential global future impact. Thus, mainly countries with high-level waste from power plants are studied, giving little attention to countries/sites that “only” have to deal with low and intermediary level nuclear waste from industry, research institutes, medical applications or from extraction sites of nuclear resource material.

Microplastics

Microplastics designate small fragments of plastic (<5mm) entering the environment either as fibres from clothes, microbeads, or fragments of larger plastics. They are the residue of a technological innovation – plastic – that fundamentally transformed our lives. Widely ignored as potential problem (and never labelled as waste), the notion of microplastics was only coined in 2004, more than a century after the introduction of first plastics. As microplastics are found in the remotest corners of the world, it has gradually entered public debate and demands for regulations are voiced. While microplastics are by now widely seen as problematic, its potential harm is still not entirely clear and concrete knowledge of its global abundance is missing, leaving space for deep ambivalences, indeterminacy, and uncertainty. Fact is that microplastics are omnipresent, can neither be confined nor easily controlled and will be around for a long time.

Data Waste

Data waste is a new category of residue created through digital innovations which INNORES wants to reflect on as a “not-yet-problem,” a quasi-absence in carefully thinking about the consequential materiality of data, e.g., the potential impact of omnipresent big data visions and the extractive systems by which data are made valuable. As practices of collecting and storing (banking) data have become core activities in contemporary science and society and our thirst for more data seems to have become unsatiable, it is time to make space for critical reflections on the long-term impacts of our data practices. Data waste is thus a category of residues yet to be characterized, described, made meaning of, reflected upon, and taken care of.

Related Publications (a selection)

  • Papadaki-Anastasopoulou, Artemis and Felt, Ulrike (2021). Assembling plastic policy objects in the making of the EU single-use plastics directive, preprint, under review.
  • Trauttmansdorff-Weinsberg, Paul and Felt Ulrike (2021). Between infrastructural experimentation and collective imagination: The digital transformation of the EU border, Science, Technology & Human Values, online first,  doi: 10.1177/01622439211057523
  • Felt, Ulrike, Öchsner, Susanne, and Rae, Rae (2020). The Making of Digital Health: Between Visions and Realizations. In J. Fritz & N. Tomaschek (Eds.), Digitaler Humanismus. Münster/New York: Waxmann Verlag. 89-101.
  • Bayer, Florian and Felt, Ulrike (2019). Embracing the “atomic future” in post-World War II Austria. Technology and Culture, 60 (1): 165-191.
  • Felt, Ulrike (2018). Living a Real-world Experiment: Post-Fukushima Imaginaries and Spatial Practices of “Containing the Nuclear”. In Ibo van de Poel, Lotte Asveld and Donna Mehos (eds.), Experimentation beyond the laboratory: new perspectives on technology in society (Farnham: Ashgate): 49-78.
  • Felt, Ulrike (2018). Responsible Research and Innovation. In Sarah Gibbon, Barbara Prainsack, Stephen Hilgartner and Janette Lamoreaux (eds.) Handbook of Genomics, Health and Society. (London/New York: Routledge): 108-116. 
  • Felt, Ulrike, Schumann, Simone, Schwarz, Claudia (2015) (Re)assembling Natures, Cultures and (Nano)technologies in Public Engagement. Science as Culture, 24 (4):  458-483.
  • Felt, Ulrike (2015) Keeping Technologies Out: Sociotechnical imaginaries and the formation of Austria's  technopolitical identity.  In Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim (Eds) Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. (Chicago: Chicago University Press): 103-125.
  • Felt, Ulrike (2015) Social science expertise in European innovation policy. In Wilsdon, James and Robert Doubleday (eds.) Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Europa. (Cambridge: Center for Science and Policy): 125-134.