The future is now: Diegetic prototypes and the role of popular films in generating real-world technological development

David Kirby

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Scholarship in the history and sociology of technology has convincingly demonstrated that technological development is not inevitable, pre-destined or linear. In this paper I show how the creators of popular films including science consultants construct cinematic representations of technological possibilities as a means by which to overcome these obstacles and stimulate a desire in audiences to see potential technologies become realities. This paper focuses specifically on the production process in order to show how entertainment producers construct cinematic scenarios with an eye towards generating real-world funding opportunities and the ability to construct real-life prototypes. I introduce the term 'diegetic prototypes' to account for the ways in which cinematic depictions of future technologies demonstrate to large public audiences a technology's need, viability and benevolence. Entertainment producers create diegetic prototypes by influencing dialogue, plot rationalizations, character interactions and narrative structure. These technologies only exist in the fictional world - what film scholars call the diegesis - but they exist as fully functioning objects in that world. The essay builds upon previous work on the notion of prototypes as 'performative artefacts'. The performative aspects of prototypes are especially evident in diegetic prototypes because a film's narrative structure contextualizes technologies within the social sphere. Technological objects in cinema are at once both completely artificial - all aspects of their depiction are controlled in production - and normalized within the text as practical objects that function properly and which people actually use as everyday objects. © The Author(s), 2010.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)41-70
    Number of pages29
    JournalSocial Studies of Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


    • Cinema
    • Entertainment production
    • Popularization
    • Prototypes
    • Science consultants
    • Technical development
    • Visualization


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