Governance of and by expectations: Anticipatory practices in nanotechnology

Future orientation is a key feature of current Science & Technology dynamics. New and emerging technologies are often associated with promises, visions and expectations that play a central role in shaping new technological fields. Actors in these highly uncertain fields rely on expectations to make sense of ongoing dynamics, legitimize their position, mobilize resources and coordinate activities. It is also common for many new technologies to go through hype, a phase of perceived overpromising and exaggeration, that might lead to disappointment. Technology hypes, as described by the Gartner Group and others, are a recurrent phenomenon, but their causes, development and consequences vary from one technology to another. Most importantly, hype-like dynamics can have distinctive effects for the governance of a field, to which actors respond by adapting their strategies and expectations.

Actors actively ‘anticipate’ new fields, in an attempt to shape particular future developments. This holds not only for research and development activities, but expectations influence as well the broader governance processes around science & technology. The omnipresence of the future is embodied in the abundance of methods, tools and specialized actors which create and shape expectations about the future, such as foresight, scenarios, and others. Furthermore, the production of expectations about the future is embedded in practices of diverse groups of actors that influence a new field, from scientists, to policy actors, investors, entrepreneurs to user communities. We call these socio-material practices, which in some form contribute to shaping ‘technological futures’, anticipatory practices. This project studies for the fields of graphene and 3D Printing which anticipatory practices are salient, which specific arrangements they form, and how they influence governance processes and eventually the evolvement of these fields.

The first field, graphene, exemplifies a case of ‘scientific breakthrough’ that is turned into a commodity, representing the assumed most common mode of techno-scientific promises. The second one, 3D printing has been strongly influenced by bottom-up, community driven innovation and ideas of open source. The comparison of these two cases will provide insights into how different starting arrangements of actors, imaginaries, institutions and practices constitute anticipatory regimes, and if the modes of governance, through anticipatory practices, differ and why.

Key words: sociology of expectation; anticipatory practices; techno-scientific promises; anticipatory governance; anticipation.


  • “We should take graphene for granted: anticipatory practices in emergent nanotechnologies” paper submitted to Science as Culture (under review)
  • “Understanding Anticipation through practices: the case of graphene and 3D printing”. Paper presentation, Workshop Nanotechnology for Development, Brussels, December 2014.
  • “What can Graphene tell us about the way we do Science? Promises, visions & concerns embedded in Scientific Practices”. Poster presentation, NanoCity, Utrecht, December 2014.
  • “Understanding technological hypes through practices: the case of graphene”. Paper presentation SNET Conference, Karlsruhe, September, 2015.
  • “We should take graphene for granted: anticipatory practices in emergent nanotechnologies”. Paper presentation, ECPR Conference, Glasgow, August 2015.
  • “Reinventing the Future: Moore’s law in a changing environment”. Poster presentation INC9 Conference 2013, Berlin.
  • “Hypes and promises management in graphene research” Paper presentation SNET Conference, Boston, 2013.

Project duration: 9/2011-8/2015
Contact person: Carla Alvial Palavicino
c.alvialp(at), + 31 53 489 4235 / 3353