Practising Tomorrows? (PhD)

PhD Research

In July 2010 I successfully defended my PhD thesis at the School of Geographical Sciences in the University of Bristol. The ‘viva’ examination was conducted by Professor Paul Dourish (Informatics) and Dr Maria Fannin (Geography). My PhD project investigated the ways and means particular futures are anticipated in the research and development (R&D) of ‘ubiquitous computing’ and related commentary.

Practising Tomorrows? Ubiquitous computing and the politics of anticipation.

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The thesis describes the ways in which technological futurity is a complex array of performative and proactive dispositions towards the future that are irreducible to normative and deterministic understandings of ‘progress’. It takes ubiquitous computing as a significant case study because the future orientation practised in ubiquitous computing research and development is emblematic of the perpetual technological forecasting in which humanity engages. While ubiquitous computing has existed as an agenda for nearly 20 years it is still largely concerned with a future that has not (yet) been realised. In the context of ubiquitous computing the thesis argues that it is necessary to make the politics of anticipation, as the particular discursive and performative ways in which future-orientation is codified and conditioned, explicit in technology development. The thesis therefore enacts a critical framework that charts a discourse of anticipation, as the multiple means for articulating proactive future orientation, internal to which are anticipatory logics that structure and rationalise how such forms of futurity are practised.

The motivation and ambit of the research is to thereby describe a politics of anticipation as the ways in which the anticipation of technological futures is codified and contested, whilst performative and multiple. Empirically, the argument is made through the discussion of interviews conducted with a range of internationally significant practitioners of ubiquitous computing research and development, which were carried out in Silicon Valley, California, in 2008. Attending to discourse, logics and emergent politics of anticipation provides a means of making explicit how our ‘knowledge’ of technological futures is produced. It is therefore argued that we should attend to socio-technical futurity as inherently situated in the living present, with all of its associated concerns, and allow for the indeterminacy of the future.