sustainability and technoscience

what do we want to sustain and for whom?

new paper available published in the International Journal of Sustainable Development

with Silvio Funtowicz


We analyse the relationship between the mainstream framings of sustainability and techno-scientific innovation. Focusing on sustainability, we discuss the need to shift from predicting and promising what to do (in the future) to a political resolution of how we want to live together (in the present). Next, we turn our attention to techno-science, examining the normalising forces emerging from the modern framing of sustainability and the strategies that standardise the envisioning of our techno-scientific future, and the risks and promises of innovation. Concentrating on two emergent technologies, along two main drivers of innovation: optimisation (for new pathways of ‘sustainable’ competitiveness and consumption) in the field of smart technologies, and substitution (for new resources) in the field of synthetic biology. Finally, we provide some suggestions about the role of complexity and quality vs. efficiency and functionality, for reopening the democratic debate about what is to be sustained and for whom.


the ability to respond

poetry and photography as quality evidence

performance work with David Waltner-Toews @ New Currents in Science:  The Challenges of Quality / Joint Research Center / European Commission


As the artist Cyrilla Mozenter has written regarding Volker Harlan’s conversations with Joseph Beuys, the word aesthetic can be understood as the opposite of anesthetic or numbness: then the artist and the art process have to do with aliveness. In Harlan’s words: art making “links…to responsibility not as a moral imperative, but to response-ability, or the ability to respond”.

Art making and fruition can emotionally, intuitively and cognitively encourage the capacity to locally and contingently embrace change and complexity, while creatively adapting to them as they unfold.

Photography and poetry can be considered as generating quality evidence related to the experience of place, and integrating it. Good policy can emerge where scientific generalizations meet place based quotidian life.

demarcation in Vatnahalsen

How do the boundaries that demarcate, define, legitimate science, technology and democracy have been drawn over time, by whom and for what aims?

2016-02-24 13.37.272016-02-25 08.12.07

A session on science and demarcation as guest lecturer in the PhD course on the Philosophy and Ethics of Social Sciences in Vatnahalsen, by SVT – University of Bergen.

with Silvio Funtowicz

A dynamic system of forces constantly and implicitly moulds and redefines the boundaries between science and technology, justification and application, discovery and invention. An historical overview of these mutable and flexible boundaries is provided through the lens of the demarcation problem, as a starting point for reflection and conversation. Three main demarcating principles are identified and discussed as guidelines: separation, hybridization and substitution. A number of past and contemporary case studies are analysed and discussed within the same framework, ranging from nanotechnology and space exploration, to emergent Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and synthetic biology.

never lost, never late and never unprepared

new book out on amazon

science on the verge

A crisis looms over the scientific enterprise. Not a day passes without news of retractions, failed replications, fraudulent peer reviews, or misinformed science-based policies. Societal implication are enormous, yet this crisis remains largely uncharted – until now.

“Wow. This penetrating, thought provocative, and irrefutable view of the debasing of science cuts to – and through – the bone. Every producer, consumer, and believer of ‘science’ should read this book, whether interested in pesticides, GMOs, nuclear power, climate change, psychology, or fiscal policy”. Philip B. Stark / Associate Dean, Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences / University of California Berkeley


serie inversa_exh#3


Torino – Con la mostra collettiva _exh#03, si chiude il ciclo annuale di Serie Inversa, programma promosso da Progetto Diogene per compiere una ricognizione sul territorio piemontese alla scoperta di percorsi di ricerca artistica attualmente fuori dal circuito commerciale o istituzionale. Gli artisti selezionati per la terza edizione del progetto che verrà ospitato negli spazi dell’Associazione Barriera, a partire dal 15 luglio, sono Alice Benessia, Michela Depetris e Paul-Flavien Enriquez-Sarano.

Turin – The collective exh#3 marks the closing of the annual cycle of Serie Inversa, a program of Progetto Diogene for carrying out a survey to discover the paths of artistic research currently going on in Piedmont, but outside the commercial or institutional circuits. The artists selected for the project’s third edition, which will be hosted in the spaces of the Barriera Association starting with the inauguration on July 15, are Alice Benessia, Michela Depetris and Paul-Flavien Enriquez-Sarano.


the impact of GM salmon: from risk to quality

new paper out on visions for sustainability

with Giuseppe Barbiero


The word “impact” entails the idea that something is already into the world and it is “pressing” against a target.

The idea is then to divert our focus from the possible targets and the consequences of the impact, to the impacting object itself, considering the driving forces that bring it into being and determine its trajectory.

In other words, we propose to suspend for a moment the scenario of the future developments, risks and promises, and ask in what kind of world a specific technoscientific product – a genetically engineered, fast-growing salmon – has a meaning that justifies the scientific and economic effort of actually fabricating it, proposing to sell it and being confident that someone will buy it.

These issues have to do with how we collectively value the salmon at stake and therefore with it’s quality: as a living being embedded into a net of socio-ecological systems, as a technoscientific commodity, and as food.

serie inversa _artist talk


Torino – Mercoledì 10 giugno, al Tram Diogene, avrà luogo uno degli ultimi incontri stagionali di Serie Inversa, che precedono la mostra annuale prevista per il mese di luglio negli spazi di Barriera. Ospite di questo appuntamento attraverso il quale Progetto Diogene effettua una ricognizione sulle pratiche artistiche in via di consolidamento sul territorio piemontese sarà l’artista Alice Benessia.

Nella sua ricerca, l’artista torinese declina l’atto del fotografare in un senso paradossale e, come dichiarato, cerca di «utilizzare uno strumento che inquadra allo scopo di rimuovere ogni inquadramento dal proprio sguardo, su di sé e sul mondo esterno». La ricerca, la pratica e la fruizione fotografica sono interpretate come possibili percorsi di indagine non solo della visione e della percezione, ma anche come opportunità di sondare uno stato dell’essere più ampio: «per ricordare e raffinare la propria capacità di essere presenti, dunque consapevoli di ciò che ci abita e ci circonda, e pertanto pronti e aperti all’evolvere nel tempo». In questo senso, viene ribaltato lo statuto ontologico della fotografia che diventa un’arte della presenza: imparare a essere in uno spazio e in un tempo definito, in relazione dinamica con la luce e con il flusso di eventi esterni e interni. Nella presentazione di un lavoro della Benessia viene affermato che «gran parte delle nostre teorie sul mondo e del nostro modo di vivere in esso dipendono da come ci guardiamo attorno. È un esercizio di grande ambizione sospendere il senso preordinato di ciò che si incontra elimitarsi a sentirne la sola presenza.Anche solo per un attimo, si diventa testimoni di un incontro tra due forme (se stessi e il fuori) che semplicemente sono». La volontà di esercitarsi sulla questione del tempo come materia pare esplicita.

Alice Benessia considers the act of photographing in a paradoxical sense: using a framing instrument in order to un-frame, that is to explore, one’s own capacity to see. Photographic research, practice and fruition are undertaken as ways to work not only on vision and perception, but on a more general state of being: “reminding and refining one’s own capacity to be present, therefore aware about what is there, and open to what will be next”. In this sense, photography becomes a performative art: learning to be in a definite space and time, in a dynamic relation with light, internal and external events. As we read in the presentation of one of her pieces: “Most of our theories about the world, and most of our way of living in it, depend on how we look around. To suspend the preconceived sense of what we encounter, and to just feel its presence, is a very ambitious task. Even for just a moment, one witnesses the encounter between two forms (oneself and the outside) that simply are”.

demarcating innovation

Optimisation, substitution and the silver bullet approach

Invited speaker @ New Narratives for Innovation – Inspirational workshop 1

European Commission – Joint Research Center – Brussels – Berlaymont


The definition of innovation as the engine of economic, social and environmental wealth is the last semantic step of a pervasive narrative of progress that can be traced back – along a co-evolving epistemic and normative trajectory – to the emergence of Scientific Revolution and Modern State. The unchallenged economic policy aims of growth, productivity and competitiveness are fundamental ingredients of this scenario, implying the paradox of sustaining a steady increase in our global resource consumption within a closed, finite system, with limited stocks and bio-geo-chemical resilience. The current dominant narrative of innovation claims a way out of conundrum: natural supplies might be limited but human creativity is unlimited, and so is human power to decouple growth from scarcity, improving efficiency in the use of natural resources and ultimately substituting them altogether, with substantially equivalent, technological optimized artifacts. In this framework, technoscientific innovation allows then for a “sustainable growth” through the optimization and the substitution of our means, and through the deployment of suitable silver-bullets, protecting us from the complexity of socio-ecological problems as they arise. This work proposes an epistemic and normative analysis of this narrative of innovation, in order to open a space for reflection on possible alternatives. First, by assuming, as in a thought experiment, that the promises of optimization and substitution inherent in some of technoscientific platforms are thoroughly fulfilled. Second, by considering what kind of world – and populated by whom – is actually implied in these promises.

full report available here