In this article published in the May 2018 issue of Energy Research & Social Science, Abraham Tidwell and I unpack the implications of sociotechnical imaginaries research for those of us doing work involving issues of the local-national gap in energy policy surrounding emerging technology adoption. Preprints can be made available upon request.
Sociotechnical imaginaries emerged in the last decade as a potentially fruitful approach to understanding how collective social values inflect on the production of scientific knowledge and the design of technological systems. Yet insights generated to date have focused on the categories experts use to define a society’s idealized organization, either as the direct subject of analysis by documentary analysis or through the ways such categories circumscribe the field of authorized “values” open for adjudication in public engagement events. We argue that sociotechnical imaginaries require a new methodological framework for designing research in order to examine the collective values of citizens as they live their daily lives, rather than focusing on experts and the state in order to understand the shared moral, material, and scientific goals of a society. Drawing inspiration from rhetoric, corpus linguistics, and dialectology, we present the Social Energy Atlas, a new and burgeoning research project that employs such methods for studying emergent narrative patterns and variation at the local level. Advancing the theory and practice of studying sociotechnical imaginaries is of tremendous benefit to Energy and Social Science researchers, and it is our intent this commentary encourages further careful development and use of the concept.