Based on a two-year ESRC-funded project by Demos and Lancaster University, this report examines the technical and social implications of nanotechnologies.
Rapid advances in nanotechnologies are giving rise to new economic, social and ethical questions. Are systems of governance and regulation keeping pace? How can we imagine the social possibilities created by emerging technologies and choose among them wisely? This pamphlet presents the findings of a two-year ESRC-funded project, which aimed to understand the social and scientific visions that are influencing nanotechnology research, and develop opportunities for ‘upstream’ dialogue between scientists and the wider public. Through interviews with scientists and policymakers, and by spending time in nanoscience laboratories, the project tried to draw out the implicit assumptions – what are sometimes termed the ‘imaginaries’ – of key players in the nanotechnology field. This was followed by a series of public focus groups, which explored questions of risk, responsibility and control, and identified potential faultlines of public controversy. At a final workshop, a group of nanoscientists and citizens shared their hopes, fears and concerns. The tone of their conversation was open and realistic, and generated a surprising degree of consensus, as members of the public developed a better sense of life in the laboratory, and the scientists grew to appreciate the legitimacy of public concerns.
Excerpt from p.27
By the end of the 1990s, GM crops had become something of an iconic environmental and social issue in many countries. At the immediate level, concern crystallised around the potential for unforeseen ecological consequences and the implications of GM for agriculture and food production. But discussion of the technology also reflected a broader set of tensions: global drives towards new forms of proprietary knowledge; shifting patterns of ownership and
control in the food chain; issues of corporate responsibility and corporate proximity to governments; intensifying relationships of science to the worlds of power and commerce; unease about hubristic approaches to limits in human understanding; and conflicting interpretations of what might be meant by sustainable development. These and numerous other ‘non-scientific’ issues condensed on to GM crops because of a particular range of institutional and cultural contingencies shaping the technology and its development.
Excerpt from p.41
A related vision emphasises nanotechnology as a new kind of interdisciplinary science. This refers not only to a confluence of traditional disciplinary traditions, but also to a new model of research that is intellectually open to new ideas and structurally open to new
partnerships with the corporate sector. There is a common assumption that nanoscience is necessarily interdisciplinary and that this will bring with it an increase in the rate of technology transfer between academia and business.