The Politics of Expectations

Next year’s Annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers will be in Seattle. I was considering attending but I think it might be best to let the dust settle after moving back to the UK in January. Many others will be there however, including James Porter, a colleague and friend from PhD times at King’s College, London. On his behalf, here’s the call for papers for a session he’s organising at the meeting. Deadline is 1st October, more details at the bottom.

Call for Papers
The Politics of Expectations: Nature, Culture, and the Production of Space

Association of American Geographers, Annual Meeting, 12-16th April 2011, Seattle.

Session Organisers:
James Porter (King’s College London) and Samuel Randalls (University College London)

Expectations are incredibly powerful things. Whether materialized via climatic models, economic forecasts, or based on the promise of personalised medicines, expectations (and those who engineer them) play a deeply political yet often unsung role in bringing into being a particular kind of future as well as shaping a particular kind of present. Savvy actors seeking to engineer change may decide to write editorials, give press briefings, or try to normalise trust between the communities involved so as to enrol support and resources for an emerging marketplace (and consumer) they have envisioned. Such discursive as well as performative practices pre-emptively shape the social and economic context for developing technologies so that the actors involved not only develop their physical objects but also influence other people’s thinking. Rather than dismiss such efforts as exaggerated or self-serving claims, the “sociology of expectations” (cf. Brown, 2003; Hedgecoe, 2004; Law, 1994) points to the constructive, performative, and even destructive role such expectations have in today’s world where competition for funding, research impact and innovation are so intense. As many geographers researching the ‘commercialization of nature’ have noted (cf. Castree, 2003; Johnson, 2010; Lave et al., 2010; Prudham, 2005), expectations of future natures inhabit contemporary environmental management in a series of subtle and not so subtle ways for all actors.

But how are expectations created, configured, and stabilized? What, and whose, interests shape them, and in turn, whose interests do they shape? And why do some persist whilst others don’t? Such questions speak directly to the ways in which nature (and knowledge of it) is being increasingly commercialized and commodified through its interactions with science and technology. This session builds on controversies such as the climate change emails at UEA, medical trials, carbon forestry and much more to showcase how the “future” is mobilized to govern or proliferate uncertainty and justify particular mechanisms for managing environmental problems. Geographers are uniquely placed to comment on this providing theoretical depth and empirical evidence that sheds light on the commodification of nature whilst also contributing to the socio-technical analyses employed by science and technology studies scholars. We therefore invite papers addressing (though not limited to) the following questions:

  • Who constructs expectations and why? How / where do they get enacted (i.e. technological, sociocultural, artefacts, etc.)? And how do they get accepted, institutionalized, or perhaps resisted?
  • How are expectations of nature commercialized? To what extent are expectations central to processes of commercialization and does this vary depending on the specific environmental arena? Are there unnatural expectations?
  • Do expectations have agency? Can they be negotiated or adapted? If so, what role have geographers played in shaping past perceptions and might hope to play in the future?
  • What happens if a set of expectations is not successful? Why didn’t they succeed? And what lessons can we learn?

Abstracts should be sent to both James Porter (james.porter at and Samuel Randalls (s.randalls at by Friday 1st October 2010.

For conference information, see:

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