vendredi 13 décembre 2013

Prospective Ontology.

Arie Rip, Fig.1. Time-line of actor-networks (AN) and actor-worlds (AW), 2009.

Engineers add to the furniture of the world, and thus shift its ontology - if we use the term "ontology" in a simplistic way (Rip, 2000 : 8). This "adding" is not a simple, linear activity of first making something, and making it available, which is then added to the world. There is a storng prospective element. Artefacts start as technological options, a promise of functionalities, in other words "hopeful monstrosities" (Mokyr, 1990 ; Stoelhorst, 1997). This is visible, sometimes literally, in the prototypes : these embody a prospective. When they are developed further, introduced and taken up on location, they remain unfinished. Technologies are configurations that work (Rip & Kemp, 1998), but always precariously. In a sense, in their practices technologies are unruly (Wynne, 1988).

Scenarios, embedded in the configurations, are an integral part of their working, including the prospect of a world in which they can function optimally, at first as a "fictive script" (De Laat, 1996 ; 2000). A key element of such a script is that the promises of a technological configuration can be realised only by changing the world so that it can accomodate the new technological options. Artifical fertilisers were effective only if the land they were applied to was reshaped so as to resemble the test plots, i.e., the circumstances under which they had been tried out. Atomic energy required a reorganisation of liabilities (insurance companies did not want to carry all the risk) and extensive safety measures.

In general, the configuration constucted by engineers promise functionalities, but it takes time and effort to realize them (precarioulsy). Also because the world has to adapt to their "fictive script", and need not accommodate fully. In other words, they are always prospective configurations (cf. Van Lente & Rip, 1998 on prospective structures to be filled in by agency), and remain so because they are never finished.

Why use the term "ontology"? The notion of ontology as "furniture of the world" is not very sophisticated philosophically, but it serves to introduce the topic of my article (1). It can be read as similar to the pre-Socratic idea of the "stuff" of the world, with the additional connotation that the shapes of the "stuff" will evolve. This "stuff" of the world has a prospective element, not because there are promises and "fictive scripts" being made, but because the future is already there, prefigured in the present and evolving configuration (2).

The idea of prospective ontology actually implies a general ontological point, even if I will develop it mostly in terms of technology. This general point derives from my work in actor-network theory, even if it does not depend on the details of this theory. In Callon et al. (1986) a distinction was made between existing and evolving actor-networks, i.e. assemblages of circulating "intermediaries" which add up to actors (human and non-human) but which can be decomposed again into the networks out of which they are built, and actor-worlds, the projections of future worlds, like "fictive scripts" (De Laat, 1995 ; 2000). At any one moment, the evolving "stuff" of the world is a patchwork of actor-networks. The evolution is shaped by the actor-worlds contained in them and sometimes articulated, and the responses to them in terms of circulating "intermediaries". 

At the time, we experimented with representations as in Figure 1, a timeline of actor-networks and actor-worlds.

Such a representation can be read as how strategy and planning are commonly visualized : anticipation and then feedback into action. The point, however, is that anticipations and networks are an evolving whole, changing actor-networks are de facto enactment of overlapping and contrasting actor-worlds. Still keeping close to the strategy and governance literature, I have taken this up as "anticipation-in-action" (Rip, 2006). For ontology, it implies a monistic view: the future is part of the ontology, not separate as just human projection (3). This can be brought out by emphasizing that expectations are embodied, and conversely, that the material has a narrative character (sections 2 and 3) (4).

Arie Rip, Technology as a Prospective Ontology in Synthese, vol. 168, issue 3, 2009, p.405-408.


1. The concept of "ontology" as used in information science specifies the units or elements that will make up the software world, often with the additional requirement that these units resemble the units in the real world that is to be modelled in the software. In contrast, the notion of ontology I am using here is open-ended: it need not and cannot be fully specified, its "units" will be discovered and articulated in practices. The debate on the reduction of a chemical ontology to a physics ontology or its autonomy sits in between, because it can be limited to the epistemological status of entities like molecules, as perhaps just a specification of the kind of "software" that the discipline of chemistry will use (cf. Lombardi and Labarca, 2005). Such usages of the term "ontology" are widespread. Nersessian (2006: 131) discusses the "ontology" of artefacts in a lab as its furniture, with devices, instruments and equipment. Van de Ven and Poole (2005) disucss alternative "ontological views of organizations as things and organizing as processes" (p.1377), and quote Tsoukas (2005) on two versions of the social world: "one, a world of processes in which things are reifications of processes" (p.1379). They do refer, following Reschear (1996), to a philosophical tradition of process ontologies, including Whitehead's notion of ongoing activities "prehending" what goes on in their environement (p.1378). Later, they take this up again as "temporal predispositions" (p.1391), similar to what I call embedded anticipation.
2. Cf. Dupuy and Grinbaum (2006) at p.312, about the "common but mistaken conception of the future as unreal".
3. The monims is a monism of process ontologies, e.g. Whitehead (1929) on the actual world as process, and the process is a becoming of actual entities (see) and in another vein Bergson (1911) - on the flow of the real -, and his contemporary successor Deleuze (as Wood 2002, p.157 phrases it). While both Whitehead and Bergson experience a revival (cf. Barry (2001, pp.154-155), and Callon (1999)), I want to avoid their reliance on creativity, and the idea (mainly in Whitehead) that "experience" pervades everything. Instead, I emphasize the prospective, and take technology (and landscape) as my entrance point rather than the living. In this paper, my intellectual strategy is to start (also in later sections) with commonsensical discussions of technology - and simplistic ideas of ontology - and then address further and deeper questions.
4. Conversely, narratives are material, even when they are take up as just a story. They are voiced on location, or embodied/embedded in ink on pages of text which are lay-outed, bound in a book or some other concrete package.


Barry, Andrew (2001), Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society, London and New York: The Athlone Press.
Bergson, Henri (1911/1983), Creative Evolution (translation Arthur Mitchell), Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Callon, Michel, John Law and Arie Rip (1986), Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan.
Callon, Michel (1999), "Whose imposture? Physicists at war with the Third Person", Social Studies of Science, 29, pp. 261-286.
De Laat, Bas, Scripts for the Future. Technology foresight, strategic evaluation and socio-technical networks: the confrontation of script-based scenarios, PhD Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 18 December 1996.
De Laat, Bas, Future Scripts, in Nik Brown, Brian Rappert and Andrew Webster (eds.), Contested Futures. A Sociology of Prospective Techno-Science, Aldershot etc: Ashgate, 2000. 
Dupuy, Jean-Pierre, and Alexei Grinbaum (2006), "Living with Uncertainty: Toward the Ongoing Normative Assessment of Nanotechnology", in Schummer and Baird (eds.), Nanotechnology Challenges, pp. 287-314. 
Lombardi, Olimpia, and Martin Labarca (2005), "The Ontological Autonomy of the Chemical World", Foundations of Chemistry, 7, 125-148.
Mokyr, Joel: The Lever of Riches, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990.
Nersessian, N.J. (2006). The cognitive-cultural systems of the research laboratory. Organization Studies, 27(1), 125–145.  
Rip, Arie, and Rene Kemp, "Technological Change", in S. Rayner and E.L. Malone (eds.) Human Choice and Climate Change, Columbus, Ohio: Battelle Press, 1998, Volume 2, Ch. 6, pp. 327-399.
Rip, Arie, "There's no turn like the empirical turn", in Peter Kroes and Anthonie Meijers (eds.) The Empirical Turn in the Philosophy of Technology, Amsterdam etc.: JAI, an imprint of Elsevier Science, 2000, 3-17.
Rip, Arie (2006), A co-evolutionary approach to reflexive governance—and its ironies. In J.-P. Voß, D. Bauknecht & R. Kemp (Eds.), Reflexive governance for sustainable development (pp. 82–100). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. 
Stoelhorst, Jan-Willem, In Search of a Dynamic Theory of the Firm. An evolutionary perspective on competition under conditions of technological change, with an application to the semi-conductor industry. University of Twente, 03-12-1997.
Tsoukas, Haridimos (2005), Complex Knowledge: Studies in organizational epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Van de Ven, Andrew H., and Marshall Scott Poole (2005), "Alternative Approaches for Studying Organizational Change", Organization Studies, 26(5), 1377-1404.
Van Lente, Harro, and Arie Rip, "Expectations in technological developments: An example of prospective structures to be filled in by agency", in C. Disco and B.J.R. van der Meulen (eds.), Getting New Technologies Together (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), pp. 195-220.
Whitehead, Alfred North (1929), Process and Reality, London: Macmillan.
Wood, Martin (2002), "Mind the Gap? A Processual Reconsideration of Organizational Knowledge", Organization, 9(1), 151-171.
Wynne, Brian (1998, "Unruly Technology: Practical Rules, Impractical Discourses and Public Understanding", Social Studies of Science, 18, 147-167.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire