Emerging technologies, academic celebrities and the social organisation of disciplines

In his contribution to the Centre for Social Ontology’s workshop on human enhancement, Doug Porpora presented his initial results from an analysis of the emerging literature on human enhancement. He observed that this literature is scattered throughout many journals across disciplines, rather than featuring in the central journals of any one discipline. This left me wondering whether this is uniformly true of emerging technologies, reflecting something important about this category and the difficulty which our our existing organisation of scholarly inquiry has in coping with it. If a new technology has significant emerging implications, it will often fit poorly within our existing structures of inquiry which in turn has conditions how it plays out in relation to (partial or absent) specialist knowledge

For any given emerging technology, it would be interesting to examine who is cited across this scattered literature. My hunch is we will see a number of academic celebrities (people such as Bruno Latour or Donna Haraway) whose work has been picked up at the peripheries of many different disciplines. This tendency further adds to their visibility, rendering it more likely they will be picked up by others working at emerging frontiers. Looking at this in a systematic would involve identifying and analysing the commonalities and differences in the way such thinkers are drawn upon. Their work plays a crucial role in how the gap between concerned disciplines develops, either facilitating mutual exchange or furthering the fragmentation. However my suspicion is that this represents another vector through which the (dis)organisation of the contemporary academy undermines our capacity to identify, understand and steer the social life of emerging technologies.

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