Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
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Science Center Lecture Hall D, 1 Oxford St., Cambridge

Science & Democracy Lecture: Jens Beckert and Richard Bronk

The Program on Science, Technology & Society at HKS presents "Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculative Technologies" with Jens Beckert, Director, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, and Richard Bronk, European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 


  • Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics in the Department of Economics, MIT
  • Jason Jackson, Assistant Professor of Political Economy and Urban Planning, MIT
  • Emma Rothschild, Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History & Director, Center for History and Economics, Harvard University
  • MODERATED BY Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, HKS


Dynamic capitalist economies are characterized by relentless innovation and novelty and hence exhibit an indeterminacy that cannot be reduced to measurable risk. How then do economic actors form expectations and decide how to act despite this uncertainty? This talk will focus on the role played by imaginaries, narratives, and calculative technologies, and argue that the market impact of shared calculation devices, social narratives, and contingent imaginaries underlines the rationale for a new form of ‘narrative economics’ and a theory of fictional (rather than rational) expectations. When expectations cannot be anchored in objective probability functions, the future belongs to those with the market, political, or rhetorical power to make their models or stories count. The talk will also explore the dangers of analytical monocultures and discourses of best practice in conditions of uncertainty, as well as the link between uncertainty and some aspects of populism such as the distrust of experts.


Jens Beckert is the director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany. He is currently Theodor Heuß Visiting Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. Beckert works in the field of economic sociology with a special interest in the investigation of markets. In recent years his research has focused on the role of expectations and imaginaries in economic decision making. His book Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics was published in 2016 with Harvard University Press.

Richard Bronk is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Prior to joining the LSE in 2000, Bronk worked for seventeen years in the Bank of England and as an equity fund manager. His approach to philosophy of economics is grounded in a history of ideas perspective and in his practical experience in markets and policy. He is the author of The Romantic Economist: Imagination in Economics, published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Contact Name: 

Laura Hanrahan

Research Areas: 

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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