Dreamscapes of Modernity Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power
edited by Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim
University of Chicago Press, 2015
Cloth: 978-0-226-27649-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-27652-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-27666-3
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.001.0001


Dreamscapes of Modernity offers the first book-length treatment of sociotechnical imaginaries, a concept originated by Sheila Jasanoff and developed in close collaboration with Sang-Hyun Kim to describe how visions of scientific and technological progress carry with them implicit ideas about public purposes, collective futures, and the common good. The book presents a mix of case studies—including nuclear power in Austria, Chinese rice biotechnology, Korean stem cell research, the Indonesian Internet, US bioethics, global health, and more—to illustrate how the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries can lead to more sophisticated understandings of the national and transnational politics of science and technology. A theoretical introduction sets the stage for the contributors’ wide-ranging analyses, and a conclusion gathers and synthesizes their collective findings. The book marks a major theoretical advance for a concept that has been rapidly taken up across the social sciences and promises to become central to scholarship in science and technology studies.


Sheila Jasanoff is the Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School. Sang-Hyun Kim is associate professor at the Research Institute of Comparative History and Culture at Hanyang University in Korea.


"The essays in Dreamscapes of Modernity address the ways in which individuals, states, universities, and various corporate bodies conceptualize scientific and technological matters while translating this knowledge into visions for productive social, political, and technical change. Jasanoff and Kim offer a lucid and subtle analysis of the role of science and technology in producing norms, knowledges, and visions that cement relations of power. What is at stake in this very fine volume is a fundamental understanding of how social systems change or endure, cohere or fall apart."
— Judy Wajcman, author of Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism

"Here is a volume that succeeds at the difficult task of treating all societies symmetrically, whether in the global north, south, east, and west. Through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries the authors show us telling comparisons between Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The result is a convincing deconstruction of the standard image of modernization and an equally convincing plea to engage in constructive politics. This volume should be obligatory reading for anyone engaging with how societies and science and technology shape each other and thereby our futures."
— Wiebe E. Bijker, author of Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs

"A valuable humanistic collection connecting the social history of science and the anthropology of science and technology with Jasanoff's signature contributions bridging science and technology studies, power, and the construction of social legitimacy."
— Michael M. J. Fischer, author of Anthropological Futures

"The individual essays in Dreamscapes are uniformly interesting and well researched, and Jasanoff’s opening essay offers a sophisticated overview of a wide body of literature. The collection offers a valuable addition to scholarship at the intersection of STS, SHOT, Politics and Science Policy, and I expect will become widely read."
— Metascience

"Dreamscapes of Modernity offers a flexible, yet rigorous model for positioning politics at the center of STS by emphasizing the imaginative and normative as well as the material and institutional dimensions of scientific and technological projects. The concept of sociotechnical imaginaries represents a vital contribution not only to Science and Technology Studies,but also to fields such as critical geography, cultural studies, and political theory—a reminder that contemporary configurations of science, technology, and power could have been, and still can be, otherwise."
— Daniel Williford, Technology and Culture


-Sheila Jasanoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0001
[sociotechnical imaginary, modernity, co-production, social change, political performance, comparative analysis, politics of science and technology]
This chapter introduces the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries, showing how it fills a gap between theoretical work on the nature and origin of collective social imaginations and empirical work on the politics of science and technology. Emphasizing the role of both practices and performance in constituting imaginaries, the chapter distinguishes sociotechnical imaginaries from other related analytic concepts, such as frames, and addresses problems such as the relationship between individual and collective imaginations, the relative significance of state and non-state actors, the durability of imaginaries, and the potential for resistance to dominant imaginaries. (pages 1 - 33)
This chapter is available at:

-William K. Storey
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0002
[sociotechnical imaginary, imperialism, colonialism, Cecil Rhodes, South Africa]
This chapter examines the visionary technopolitics of Cecil Rhodes, an English-born South African businessman and politician. It analyzes how Rhodes' technological vision (with respect to mining, railroads, telegraphs, etc.) and social vision (of a particular racial and political order) were closely intertwined with one another and eventually led to a distinct imperial vision for South Africa. It traces the ways in which the scaling up of sociotechnical imaginary—from an individual's mind to the continent—constructed South Africa. (pages 34 - 55)
This chapter is available at:

-Michael A. Dennis
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0003
[sociotechnical imaginary, US science policy, Cold War science, military research and development, Lysenkoism, expertise]
What was the status of American scientists working with the US military during the Cold War? Were they the equals of their military patrons, or were they employees, doing jobs to which they had been assigned? Answers from two leading science policy experts reveal the presence of competing sociotechnical imaginaries in early Cold War America. In one imaginary, articulated by Vannevar Bush, science and politics were separate domains and breaching their boundaries was akin to the Soviet Union's monstrous Lysenkoist moment of politics corrupting science. In another, expounded by Bush's most influential reader, Don Price, the freedom of science rested upon the incorporation of science into the American state's postwar foundation. Reading Price's influential 1954 work, Science and Government, this essay explores how Price sought to convince researchers that what had once been a problem could be solved by properly training a cadre of policy professionals who could mediate between truth and power. (pages 56 - 78)
This chapter is available at:

-Warigia Bowman
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0004
[sociotechnical imaginary, ICT policy, Rwanda, Kagame, infrastructure, development, authoritarianism]
This chapter examines post-genocide Rwanda's ICT policies and the underlying sociotechnical imaginary of ICT-led progress embraced by the Kagame government and shared by many donors. Kagame envisioned Rwanda as a reconstructed, modern African nation. He embraced a Singapore-like vision of Rwanda as Africa's ICT Hub. This chapter explores the development successes of Kagame's RPF government in rebuilding the nation after the genocide using ICT as an instrument. However, the RPF government's top-down view of modernization and development significantly limit the participation of Rwandan civil society in rebuilding the nation. Further, this study exposes a general weakness of Rwanda in the post-reconstruction era: despite the great development successes of the current government, the top-down nature of governance means that the country's civil society remains woefully underdeveloped, which may cripple Rwanda's progress in the future. (pages 79 - 102)
This chapter is available at:

-Ulrike Felt
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0005
[sociotechnical imaginary, nuclear power, biotechnology, nanotechnology, memory, Austria]
This chapter suggests that Austria's attempts to keep certain controversial technologies out of its territory were strongly tied to the creation and articulation of a specific national technopolitical identity as well as preferred ways of living. The chapter focuses on the cases of nuclear power and agricultural biotechnologies. It also explores how the national sociotechnical imaginary manifested in these cases has shaped Austria's approach to other emerging technologies, such as nanotechnologies. (pages 103 - 125)
This chapter is available at:

-J. Benjamin Hurlbut
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0006
[sociotechnical imaginary, science and law, bioethics, recombinant DNA, Asilomar, United States]
This chapter examines the famous 1975 Asilomar meeting on recombinant DNA as a site of memory that informs how futures tend to be imagined in American governance of emerging technology. It argues that Asilomar-in-memory crystallizes an imaginary of "governable emergence" wherein science predicts and generates futures, and social institutions (like law) can only react to—and potentially inhibit—technological emergence. The chapter explores how remembering, retelling and reenacting the past can play a powerful role in regulating imaginations of the future and in shaping practices of governance in the present. (pages 126 - 151)
This chapter is available at:

-Sang-Hyun Kim
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0007
[sociotechnical imaginary, politics of science and technology, social movements, developmentalism, nationalism, South Korea, nuclear power, biotechnology, BSE]
By analyzing public disputes over nuclear power, biotechnology and the import of U.S. beef, this chapter explores the South Korean politics of science and technology in a wider social and political context. The chapter first examines the ways in which South Korea's visions of science and technology became interwoven with projects of nation-building and the resulting sociotechnical imaginary shaped the formulation of the state's policies in each case. It then shows that, in contesting these initiatives, social movement activists not only challenged the official visions of development and national interests, but also questioned the proper role and place of science and technology in society. While activist groups were occasionally able to disrupt the state's initial plans, however, it proved very difficult for them to dethrone the prevailing sociotechnical imaginary that viewed science and technology primarily as a form of power and as instruments to serve state-led national development. (pages 152 - 173)
This chapter is available at:

-Suzanne Moon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0008
[sociotechnical imaginary, community participation, housing projects, Hasan Poerbo, Indonesia, Muhammad Hatta, building technologies, New Order Indonesia]
By focusing on the sociotechnical imaginaries at work outside the state, this chapter explores the ways in which civil society actors and groups may oppose, counter, or redirect the priorities and privileges of state-authorized social order. It examines the sociotechnical imaginary taken up by Hasan Poerbo—a leading Indonesian advocate of community participation in mass-housing projects—and the ways this imaginary worked to counter the dominant vision of technological and economic change in Suharto's New Order Indonesia of the 1970s and 1980s. (pages 174 - 198)
This chapter is available at:

-Joshua Barker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0009
[sociotechnical imaginary, information technology, politics of freedom, history of the Internet, Onno Purbo, Indonesia]
This chapter charts the role of Onno Purbo (Hasan Poerbo's son) and his colleagues in building the Indonesian Internet in the 1990s and early 2000s, and shows how their work involved an attempt to construct an oppositional sociotechnical imaginary. Against state imaginaries that envisioned state-controlled, centralized, capital intensive networks of communications, these engineers imagined a new Indonesian Internet public creating a low-cost, large-scale, do-it-yourself network free of state control. (pages 199 - 218)
This chapter is available at:

-Nancy N. Chen
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0010
[sociotechnical imaginary, biotechnology, food security, genetically modified rice, consumption, China]
This chapter focuses on China's sociotechnical imaginaries with respect to genetically modified rice, which has become the new locus of forging sovereignty in the face of disparity and projected futures of scarcity. The chapter shows that biotechnology serves as a platform for contemporary formations of governance in the People's Republic by ensuring the collective good in terms of adequate food sources and other material resources, and also how growing environmental concerns shape new contexts for Chinese biotechnology. (pages 219 - 232)
This chapter is available at:

-Regula Valérie Burri
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0011
[sociotechnical imaginary, nanotechnology, political culture, civic epistemologies, comparative analysis, Germany, United States]
This chapter explores how the meanings and roles of science and its proper relations to society are imagined differently in Europe (Germany, in particular) and the United States. By analyzing major policy documents related to nanotechnologies, the chapter reveals the explicit goals and underlying assumptions that shape nanotechnology strategies in the respective countries. It argues that the cross-national variation in sociotechnical imaginaries correspond to divergent historical experiences, attitudes, and identities in different political cultures and contributed to the emergence of distinctive forms of civic epistemologies, thus shaping the ways emerging technologies are assessed and governed. (pages 233 - 253)
This chapter is available at:

-Elta Smith
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0012
[sociotechnical imaginary, corporate social responsibility, Golden Rice, biotechnology, global governance]
This chapter looks at the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs and discusses the multinational biotechnology company Syngenta's involvement in the development and commercialization of Golden Rice as a CSR project for international agriculture and the modes of governance that correspond to these activities. The chapter argues that Syngenta's corporate imaginary of biotechnology creates a "humanitarian contract" that presumes a static relationship between donor and recipient, raising questions about the democratic viability of these programs. (pages 254 - 276)
This chapter is available at:

-Clark A. Miller
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0013
[sociotechnical imaginary, security, globalization, global governance, climate change, health, WHO]
This chapter describes the rise to prominence of the sociotechnical imaginary of globalism during the second half of the 20th century. Globalism imagines that human societies and economies, the systems they create, the environments within which they flourish, and the threats to security they experience, such as climate change, pandemic health risks, financial market instabilities, and terrorism, are increasingly global, hence capable of being understood and governed on scales no smaller than the planet. This imaginary is grounded in scientific ideas of nature and society as global systems and has been transformed by international institutions and their partners in national governments into a central feature of contemporary political imagination and global governance. The chapter examines how these institutions have sought authority to create global programs of action to combat imagined global risks and to fashion global sociotechnical networks to implement them, and the ways in which the emerging global imaginary expands, engages with, and transforms earlier social imaginaries grounded in conceptions of the nation state as the highest level of government. (pages 277 - 299)
This chapter is available at:

-Andrew Lakoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0014
[sociotechnical imaginary, biopolitics, global health, pandemic preparedness, WHO]
This chapter analyzes global health security as a strategic framework designed to prepare for and respond to the onset of disease emergencies. The chapter tracks the technical practices through which global health experts imagine the catastrophic threat of emerging disease, focusing on the governance regime of the International Health Regulations that has consolidated in response. It then turns to a specific case that demonstrates the challenges posed to this regime: Indonesia's objection to sharing samples of avian influenza collected as part of the World Health Organization's Global Influenza Surveillance Network. (pages 300 - 320)
This chapter is available at:

-Sheila Jasanoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226276663.003.0015
[sociotechnical imaginary, co-production, memory, practices, social change, resistance]
This chapter provides a brief resume of the main theoretical and methodological contributions made by the collection as a whole. It outlines a pathway by which sociotechnical imaginaries, starting with the visions of one or a few actors, eventually gain the adherence of larger collectives, such as national polities. Drawing on the empirical content of the case study chapters, it identifies and illustrates four recurrent phases in this process: origins, embedding, resistance, and extension. (pages 321 - 342)
This chapter is available at:


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