Scientists and engineers have played a central role in refashioning the material and social worlds of modernity. They have provided key resources with which human beings and institutions imagine, and in part realize, particular visions of progress. These resources can also destabilize identities, threaten security, and arouse resistance. For example, in biomedicine, genetic breakthroughs may allow us to remake the human body, profile individuals and populations, and commodify nature in unprecedented ways; in the information sciences new technologies promise to provide ready access to vast realms of information, facilitate new forms of human interaction and consumption, and enable new forms of state and corporate surveillance; in the military sphere, new technologies may offer unprecedented accuracy and striking power to the armed forces of postindustrial states. These new knowledges and technological forms are materializing at the same time that processes of globalization are mobilizing novel flows of capital, commodities, ideas, technologies, and human migration across borders - and so giving rise to new types of social and technoscientific experimentation.
(A conference announcement at the turn of the millennium)
Science and technology stand at the center of the modern world order - both political and economic. Since World War II, nations have increasingly turned to scientific and technological research and development to provide for their national security (Dennis 1994). The regulatory authority of the state depends implicitly on the generation of statistical information about society and the economy, and on science advice concerning health, safety, and environmental risks (Ezrahi 1990; Jasanoff 1990, 1986; Beck 1992; Porter 1995; Rueschemeyer and Skocpol 1995). The modern firm is first and foremost an agent of technological production (Chandler 1977; Noble 1977; Hughes 1983). Yet, in seeking to understand processes of global change now taking place, students of international political economy have left largely unexamined the activities of scientists, engineers, and others in society who are responsible for the production of new knowledges and technologies. Although scientific and technological changes have been recognized as fundamental components of globalization, scholars have traditionally assumed that they take place outside the realm of social analysis, that is, that they