The Speculative Present How Michael Crichton Colonized the Future of Science and Technology
I argue for the importance of considering author, director, and producer Michael Crichton (1942–2008) as a critic and student of Cold War cultures of expertise. Though best known for his blockbuster fiction, he shared a sensibility with academics in North America and the United Kingdom who were concerned with scientists’ unchecked authority. These scholars created a new field that would later become known as Science and Technology Studies or STS. Like his contemporaries in STS, and often in anticipation of them, Crichton’s novels relied on a blend of history, sociology, and anthropology to lift back the curtain to reveal the specialized worlds in which scientists worked, and to devote specific attention to the practices, instruments, and values that animated their knowledge-production enterprise. In doing so, his fiction both popularized STS and shaped concerns and fears about the future of science and technology. The “speculative present” is useful for making visible the ironies exploited by Crichton, including his own engagement with ideas about speculation as both a form of conjecture and a form of prospecting value. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s early work on the cyborg, the speculative present helps to pry open forms of world making obscured by adherence to binaries of fact and fiction, nature and culture, with the goal of cultivating a broader array of visions about emerging science and technology.