The governance of emerging technologies: Governing the borders, relevance and acceptance of nanotechnology (Presentation)

Conference Governing Futures. Imagining, Negotiating & Taming Emerging Technosciences. 22-24 September, 2011
Vienna, Albert Schweitzer Haus
Organized by the Department of Social Studies of Science

The governance of emerging technologies: Governing the borders, relevance and acceptance of nanotechnology
(Presentation cancelled)

Petra Schaper-Rinkel

Nanotechnology as an emerging technology was constructed, shaped, and negotiated through specific discursive and institutional practices within diverse cultural and social contexts and established in multiple policy arenas through funding programs and regulatory practises.

This paper discusses the future oriented practises such as forecasting or participatory foresight that are used in different phases of the ongoing process. The future oriented practises are examined as new modes of governance in which a particular rationality of governing is entangled with new tools and instruments of involving stakeholders in rule-setting for funding and implementation of regulatory frameworks. Furthermore it analyses how expectations with regard to future change along the dimensions of technoscientific and governance innovation are entangled through these processes. I use Foucault’s theoretical framework of governmentality to analyse the establishment of a new governmental rationality.

In the 1990s innovation related to nanotechnology was promoted mainly to increase national and European competitiveness, while today emerging technologies are expected to serve a multitude of national and European policy objectives such as ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’. Emerging technologies are also related to discourses surrounding what is called  ‘Grand Challenges’ at the intersection of science, society and policy. As expectations and promises broadened, the range of those invited to participate in technology related governance processes broadened as well.

The paper focuses on three chronologically overlapping areas of governing nanotechnology. First, governing the boundaries of nanoscience and consequently defining the field itself dominated early ‘forward looking activities’, notably so called Technology Analysis and Technological Forecasting. Second, in governing the comparative relevance of various nanotechnologies promises and expectations were generated and specified in two-way scenarios: Anticipated future nanotechnologies were embedded in future societies, which were in turn imagined as societies in need of nanotechnologies.  Third, governing the acceptance of nanotechnology became the focus of more recent governance processes targeting risk dimensions and regulatory frameworks.

Governing these three interrelated dimensions of emerging technologies is intertwined with increased use of ‘forward looking activities’, which are themselves heterogonous. Early activities were exclusively expert-driven processes (technology analysis), whereas over time, increasing public attention created space for more participative practises. Participation became what Foucault terms a ‘political technology’. That is, in the governance of emerging technologies participation is used to manage and control the funding and regulation of emerging technologies, and to enable and bound public engagement. Analysing different processes over time, we can identify an emerging paradox. The number of stakeholders involved is increasing, while the binding significance of the policy recommendations, for example with regard to funding & regulatory frameworks, is decreasing.