Successful workshop "Experimental Society" [28.03.2014]

The workshop "Experimental society – the experiment as dispositif of the knowledge society?" was very successfully held by ITAS - in collaboration with Matthias Groß (UFZ Leipzig / Friedich-Schiller-Universität Jena) and Wolfgang Krohn (Universität Bielefeld) - on 20 and 21 February 2014.

Subject of the workshop was the variety of meanings of the idea of experimental action and the different forms of experimental practices in societal modernization. The workshop served as a platform for the interdisciplinary exploration of the experiment, not only regarding different societal fields of action but also from the perspective of different disciplinary approaches. This resulted in a multi-faceted idea of crucial research problems which have to be addressed during the further study of the experiment as dispositif of the knowledge society.

The following three aspects came up during the workshop:

First, it can be shown that experimenting has been a substantial mode of knowledge production since modern times which intends a systematic shift of the boundaries of the hitherto known. The establishment of this practice of action drew institutional boundaries of science which were shifted further into society by successful experimenting. However, a linear spread cannot be observed at the same time. Linguistic analyses show instead that the use of the term experiment was and is subject to trends. In this respect it is revealing to trace these trends to be able to contextualize the spreading of the term more precisely.

Second, it turned out during the workshop that the broad use of the term experiment opens up a debate since it invites us to take a closer look at the different methods of trying. However, in the next step we had to face the challenge of distinguishing the analytical use of the term experiment from the empirical one and back this criterially. The trick here is to separate it from the narrow epistemic horizon without losing sight of the quality of systematic acquisition of knowledge and letting the concept slip off into arbitrariness.

Third, it became apparent that the term experiment can be used to specifically examine settings of societal trying which include the cooperation of heterogenic actors. Social innovations or real labs were the relevant conceptual approaches here and energy turnaround, climate engineering and eco villages the phenomena observed.

This short excerpt shows that there is an abundance of interesting questions which are also of some relevance for technology assessment. With the transition from policy advice to society advice we can also claim that this is a transition to procedures of experimental testing which request policy makers to provide the relevant institutional framework conditions. Technology assessment would then be asked to develop not only the concept for the social organization of such processes but also systematically support the aspect of knowledge acquisition. Technology assessment for "experimental policy" would then be the slogan.

A detailed report on this workshop can be found in the issue 2/2014 of "Technology Assessment – Theory and Practice".

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