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Revolutionary dreams: Future essentialism and the sociotechnical imaginary of the fourth industrial revolution in Denmark

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In 2015, the World Economic Forum announced that the world was on the threshold of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ driven by a fusion of cutting-edge technologies with unprecedented disruptive power. The next year, in 2016, the fourth industrial revolution appeared as the theme of the Forum’s annual meeting, and as the topic of a book by its founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab. Ever since, the Forum has made this impending revolution its top priority, maintaining that it will inevitably change everything we once know about the world and how to live in it, thus creating what I conceptualize as ‘future essentialism’. Within a short space of time, the vision of the fourth industrial revolution was institutionalized and publicly performed in various national settings around the world as a sociotechnical imaginary of a promising and desirable future soon to come. Through readings of original material published by the Forum, and through a case study of the reception of the fourth industrial revolution in Denmark, this article highlights and analyses three discursive strategies – ‘dialectics of pessimism and optimism’, ‘epochalism’ and ‘inevitability’ – in the transformation of a corporate, highly elitist vision of the future into policymaking and public reason on a national level.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Volume50
Issue4
Pages (from-to)542-566
Number of pages25
ISSN0306-3127
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes

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