Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Hermeneutics of the Future and Sociotechnical Imaginaries 

Alfred Nordmann

Technical University of Darmstadt

February 2, 2017, 4:00pm-5:30pm
Darman Seminar Room, Taubman 135, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK Street


In 1954 French philosopher of technology Jacques Ellul proclaimed that technology was “l'enjeu du siècle” (‘the stake of the century’). The diagnosis still holds true, but we might agree that there is even more at stake in regard to technology here in the beginning of the 21th century. The ubiquitous presence of technology and innovation in society and human life reflects an increasing urge to control, plan and optimize the future. When Apple launched the third version of their cherished iPhone, the telling marketing slogan went “Solving Life’s Dilemmas One App at a Time”; an apt slogan indeed, not only applying to the iPhone, but also to the prevalent attitude of the present as such. Accordingly, if we wish to understand today’s society and human life, we need to genuinely think about technology, not as a universal answer, solving present and future problems, but as a question in itself. Needless to say, life’s dilemmas didn’t disappear with the iPhone 3, nor will they with the upcoming iPhone 8, and nor will they with any other future technologies, which means that there is still plenty of room for questioning and thinking amidst all the zealous solvers and ardent fixers. For many years the fields of Philosophy of Technology and Science, Technology and Society (STS) have persistently questioned technology. When the tech-industry and politicians have answered with technology, Philosophy of Technology and STS have responded with questions and studies of the complex ways, by which humans and societies interpret, imagine and relate to technology. At this event, Sheila Jasanoff and Alfred Nordmann will discuss the differences and similarities between Philosophy of Technology and STS as well as how the two fields might compliment each other. The discussion will be focused around Nordmann’s concept “hermeneutics of the future” and Jasanoff ‘s concept of  “sociotechnical imaginaries. ”


Sheila Jasanoff

Harvard Kennedy School