Brown Bag Lecture: “Innovation and Ideology: Producing and Interpreting Facts from Lab to Policy Salon in the Energy R&D Sector”

Brown Bag Lecture icon
Date: April 3, 2012
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free

A talk by Matthew N. Eisler

If advanced industrial civilization could be characterized by a central paradox, it is that its capacity to deliver a higher quality of life to hundreds of millions of people over the last half-century has also, over the long term, undermined this way of life and the biosphere. Over the last four decades policy makers have tended to seek the solution to the riddle of sustainability in “innovation,” an opaque expression connoting advanced science and engineering as a thrifty, expeditious, and apolitical fix for social problems. This presentation explores the forces perpetuating this idea in case studies of post-1945 enterprises of energy and power source R&D in the United States. In articulating the relationship between laboratory practices, energy R&D policy, and energy and economic policies over time—how the production and interpretation of knowledge of physical matter interfaces with the production and interpretation of knowledge of society—I hope to illuminate the power of institutions of science and technology to shape desirable outcomes.

Matthew N. Eisler focuses on the history of the socio-institutional relationships between science and technology post-1945. He concentrates on the political economy of knowledge-making in the academy, government, and industry, especially in enterprises relating to sustainable energy. He has explored the dynamics of linear ideology/project management, utopian/futurist discourse, science and engineering patronage, and the construction of expert authority in case studies of fuel-cell research and development and energy-related nanoscale science, engineering, and technology programs. Eisler is currently investigating these themes in a broad history of the science, technology, and social relations of energy “innovation institutions” within the federal R&D establishment, with a focus on D/ARPA, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and constituent organizations of the Department of Energy, including ARPA-E.

Eisler obtained a doctorate in the history of science and technology at the University of Alberta in 2008. He was the 2008–2009 Harris Steel Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Western Ontario’s Department of History and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 2009 to 2011. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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