Robinson’s research focuses on an essential question: how does science diplomacy deal with future projections of scientific and technological capability?
Here Robinson considers the relationship between sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009) and science diplomacy. Jasanoff and Kim define sociotechnical imaginaries as:
…collectively imagined forms of social life and social order reflected in the design and fulfilment of nation-specific scientific and/or technological projects. Imaginaries, in this sense, at once describe attainable futures and prescribe futures that states believe ought to be attained.“
Jasanoff & Kim (2009) “Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea” Minerva Vol. 47, No. 2 (June 2009), pp. 119-146
The connection between scientific-technical futures and nation states reveals the power that imaginary visions can have. From these visions emerge policies that in turn influence the evolution of technology, government grants, and the relationship between science, technology, and democracy (through the inclusion or exclusion of citizens from these projects).
All visions of the future are fiction, and using historical hindsight to study the ‘accuracy’ of such predictions is analytically redundant. Rather, sociotechnical imaginaries have agency in the moment of their creation and shape policy debates as objects that perform within their specific political-social-cultural contexts. They are publicly visible and thus orchestrate change within social systems even when international relations remain unchanged.
As Jasanoff and Kim have suggested, sociotechnical imaginaries fabricate power within the political state that can far outweigh the actual abilities of science and technology at the time. Imaginings of technical prowess can far outpace the current state of science and technology, and it is in this blending of present capability and imagined attainable futures that a great deal of power is formed from human imagination.
Technologies do not emerge in isolation. There are always multiple technological options being introduced at the same time, but only some are ultimately “successful”. A technology developed in one place is likely to spread quickly, or be used in – or against – another state, and the loci of technological development might move from an established national centre to an emerging one.
Robinson argues that when similar technological imaginaries align, they tend not to create controversy between nations; whereas disagreements over intended uses and futures of science and technology can spill over into broader international disputes. Where there is discord between nations regarding the use of a technology, the resulting imaginaries – connected by science but divergent due to their ideological and national contexts – will inevitably become a site of conflict in the international arena.
Robinson thus advocates a transnational rather than a comparative approach – as utilised by Jasanoff and Kim – in order to fully analyse the impact of sociotechnical imaginaries in science diplomacy within the global sphere.
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