Accounting the Future : An Ethnography of the European Spallation Source

Sammanfattning: The thesis investigates the social processes involved in the practices of futuring. It addresses the question of how social practices contribute to the production and maintenance of robust versions of the future. It asks how best we should study futurity, including expectations, imaginations, promises and visions. Existing research tells us rather little about how ordinary practices render the future as a particular, publicly available and accountable presence or absence. In what ways do people achieve situated performances of certainty about the future? The thesis addresses these questions by drawing upon recent theoretical themes in Science and Technology Studies (STS), notably accountability relations and mundane practices in science and technology. The empirical focus of the thesis is an extended ethnographic study of the European Spallation Source (ESS) – a major neutron-based science research facility currently under construction in Lund, Sweden. The methods used are a combination of participant observation, interviews, documentary analysis, and ethnomethodologically inflected textual analysis. The thesis reports findings in relation to each of four aspects of ESS work: 1) the textual practices rendering the future of the ESS in local newspaper coverage; 2) documentary analysis of a 2014/2015 Call for ESS Instrument Proposals; 3) observations from visits to ESS and participation in staged “future walks” and 4) the mundane laboratory practices of measuring thickness in an ESS Detector Coatings Workshop in Linköping. The results of these empirical analyses are used to argue for the importance of generating and sustaining accountability relations in futuring practices, for understanding how the future is imagined and made to come about. The thesis concludes that looking at practices in this way has political implications – among other things, it allows to see how agency and capability-to-affect the future is distributed, built, eroded and attributed.

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