Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Case for a History of Responsible Research and Innovation

Shanley, D. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation (speaker at event)Talk or presentationAcademic


When we try to imagine what might happen in the future, we often create stories and scenarios. We imagine what might happen depending on the choices that we make in the present. In order to envisage these different outcomes however, we are largely dependent on our experiences in the past, as our past experiences condition our sense of which narratives of the future are plausible. As a result, our historical knowledge is a crucial part of how we try to anticipate what the future holds in store.
‘Responsible research and innovation’ (RRI) is one way through which we can think about our relationship with science and technology, including its impacts and effects on society. RRI offers a particular way for imagining the future through narratives and scenarios. Champions of RRI envisage a future where these practices are widely adopted; indeed, since its emergence around 2010, RRI has seen unprecedented growth, becoming a pervasive concept across the European research landscape. In order to practice RRI well, it is important to reflect on past developments in science and technology. In order to imagine the future of RRI itself, we necessarily need to think about its own past to understand how plausible its imagined future actually is.
In this presentation I look at the role of history within RRI. I first look at how anticipatory practices are often criticized for neglecting the importance of historical knowledge. I then turn to an analysis of eighteen qualitative interviews with key actors in the field, in order to map the different ways in which RRI’s own history is being articulated (or not). I explore the role of history in explaining the development of RRI, looking at how different histories are foregrounded or backgrounded, absent or present. I argue that greater attention to the heritage of RRI is essential if the added value of RRI is to be articulated sufficiently. Finally, I suggest that the history of RRI could provide a fertile stomping ground for anticipating the future of RRI itself.
Period6 May 2019
Event title18th Annual STS Conference Graz 2019
Event typeConference
Conference number18
LocationGraz, Austria