Science Fiction and the Social Construction of Science and Technology (Nottingham, July 22-23)

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Science in Public conference, University of Nottingham
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This preapproved panel for the 2013 Science in Public conference at the University of Nottingham from July 22 to 23 investigates the ways in which scientists and engineers have used science fiction as an imaginative, collaborative space to actively participate in the popularization, politicization, and diffusion of technology. Although stories of scientists and engineers who have been inspired to join their fields because of science fiction are fairly well known, I would like this panel to elaborate the extent to which science fiction participates in the social construction of science and technology.

Certainly, tinkerers such as Hugo Gernsback wrote stories about the possibilities of radio and television at the same time they tested technical possibilities, so like Raymond Williams does in Television, science fiction critics can say that technical communication systems were "foreseen" in stories before the technical capability existed to implement them. More recently, it has been remarkable to see how computer science professionals have attested to the power of cyberpunk – particularly Snow Crash, to name but one example – to inspire and critique their field. Although the place of science fiction in developing new scientific or technical insights is most obvious when the author is a scientist or engineer, even authors who come to science fiction from other fields can be said to be active users who transform industries and public sentiments. In this way, the nonscientist authors of New Wave science fiction brought awareness of the political dimensions of science and technology to a wider public.

Taking a page from the proponents of social constructivism, one can suggest that science fiction is an arena in which users provide illustrations of the consequences and possibilities of technical and scientific change. By using the kind of insight found in Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch's How Users Matter anthology, this panel will do for written science fiction what David A. Kirby has done for visual science fiction in Lab Coats in Hollywood: describe the ways in which science fiction mediates among practitioners, and among the public and designers.

This typical academic panel will bring together 15-minute presentations of pre-circulated papers, allowing 30 minutes for questions and comments from the audience. Please send abstracts of 250-300 words to the convener, Chris Leslie (, and the conference organizers ( simultaneously before April 15. Panel decisions will be made by the end of April. More details about the conference are available at