Accepted paper:

Testing future societies - how test beds re-interpret and co-produce technology and society


Franziska Engels (WZB Berlin Social Science Center)
Sebastian Pfotenhauer (Technical University of Munich)
Alexander Wentland (Technical University of Munich)

Paper short abstract:

This paper points at the underexplored co-productionist character of test beds, stating that these sites are as much about the testing and demonstration of technologies as of future socio-technical orders and associated forms of governance.

Paper long abstract:

Test beds have emerged as a prominent instrument to foster innovation across geographical regions and technical domains. Although its popularity and proliferation, research has so far widely dismissed the co-productionist character of this test bed's experimental approach to innovation. Test beds as spatially confined, purposeful experimental settings aim at once to test, demonstrate, and advance the viability of new sociotechnical arrangements. Addressing the question of how test beds re-interpret innovation on both the level of technological development and the policy level, I will present a definition of test beds and an analytic framework for this distinctive approach to innovation. My research draws among others on Sheila Jasanoff's approach of co-production as well as in-depth empirical analysis from two case studies - an urban smart energy campus and a rural renewable energy network. Test bed innovation unfolds along three characteristic tensions: (1) an oscillation between controlled experimentation and messy co-creation processes, (2) a dual logic of quasi-scientific testing and public demonstration, (3) an emphasis on place and spatial delineation versus an inherent promise of scalability and generalizability premised on the presumed representativeness of the test bed for a future society at large. Test beds reconfigure and "test" society around a new set of technologies and associated modes of governance based on particular visions of the future. Analyzing test beds as sites of co-production, I also raise questions of a responsible use and governance of test beds as a policy instrument.

panel F09
Democracies of controlled experimentation? The emerging landscape of social laboratories