I’ve just read a call for papers to a workshop in Brussels, 6-7 May 2008, organised by the research project ‘Knowledge Politics and New Converging Technologies: A Social Science Perspective’. The aim of the project –which is funded under EU’s 6th Framework RTD Programme for three years, from April 2006 to March 2009, and is run by a consortium co-ordinated by Nico Stehr at the newly established Zeppelin University — is to study the knowledge production and anticipated social consequences emerging from the nano-bio-info-cogno (NBIC) field.
The call for workshop papers is interesting, because it raises an issue relevant for understanding the major changes in research and university regulatory frameworks that are taking place these days. Governments all over Europe have gradually restricted academic freedom and imposed new forms of research governance (Denmark is, by the way, one of the most afflicted countries in this respect; see this Danish blog).
There is of course no simple explanation to this historical change in the university system. However, the call for papers suggests that one explanatory factor could in fact be the rise of the NBIC-field:
Knowledge politics delineates the field of activities designed and implemented for the purpose of monitoring, regulating or even controlling the production and application of new knowledge gained through science and technology. Such activities are not new but have gained importance in the course of the 1990s with the rise of biotechnology and life sciences more generally. In view of its promise to enhance human performance through even greater interventions in the body, mind, and environment, converging technologies promises to become another virulent field of knowledge politics. Knowledge politics with respect to converging technologies is evidently one of those fields that is difficult to engage in – even as a researcher – without becoming enthralled in normative argumentation. The argument in favour of knowledge politics is that contemporary (and future) knowledge is intrinsically different from knowledge of earlier times because it will enable us to manipulate not only the human and built environment but also ourselves and fellow human beings. Therefore, new knowledge entails a potential for physical and social engineering that can be neither dismissed nor relayed to ad-hoc regulatory procedures, but rather calls for the development of new processes and tools. (my emphasis)
What Nico Stehr and his colleagues actually say is that emerging NBIC-technologies for human enhancement call for a closer monitoring, regulation and control of the production and application of new knowledge. In other words, the anticipated consequences of nano- and biotechnology is one important driving force behind the new policies for more controllable and managed universities!
I hardly need to say that this perspective also has implications for the way we understand the future role of STM (science, technology and medical) museums. I will have to think about this — will be back a.s.a.p. In the meanwhile comments would be appreciated.
Read more about the workshop here.