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Public dialogues on nanotechnology in a STS perspective : the social construction of a governance technology

Visser, Vincent (2011) Public dialogues on nanotechnology in a STS perspective : the social construction of a governance technology.

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Abstract:In recent years, there is increasing attention for the engagement of the public with science and (emerging) technology. In academic literature, public engagement with science (PES) is often perceived as the new and royal road for a responsible development of technology. Also in society, there is an increased implementation of PES projects in various formats and on several levels of policy-making. Large parts of literature focus on the normative discussion on PES. However, a smaller portion discusses how PES projects play out as a result of the perceptions and the interactions of the various actors involved. This study aims to provide a better understanding of the way PES is adopted by the involved actors and how this relates to the intended format of the organizers. The inquiry focuses on a specific project: the Dutch ‘Nanokaravaan’. This is one of the first public dialogue events on nanotechnology in the Netherlands and is organized by five science cafés. In this thesis, a social constructivist approach is developed to explore the social shaping of PES. Initially, PES projects are ‘designed’ in a specific way as an instrument to facilitate certain social interactions. Hence, this thesis conceptualizes PES as a specific type of technology, namely a ‘governance technology’. On the basis of this analogy, the inquiry draws on conceptual and methodological insights from technology studies. The approach is mainly based on the social construction of technology (SCOT) approach. SCOT focuses on the way a new technology is constructed by its attributed meanings. These meanings matter substantially for how a technology is constructed and adopted. The first part of the developed social constructivist approach focuses on the attributed meanings of the Nanokaravaan by the involved actors. The second part analyzes the social construction of the project as the result of the meanings that the actors attach to their own roles and those of others in setting up public engagement. The empirical inquiry examines three meetings by separately interviewing an organizer, an invited speaker and two visitors. The Nanokaravaan is intended as an informal and open dialogue, but the analysis showed that the format of the Nanokaravaan holds much interpretative flexibility. Although the formats of the meetings had much in common, it appeared that different factors influenced the actual public engagement during the meetings. The main factors were: the ‘stage’ setting of the speaker; the structuring of the interaction by the organizers and the speakers; and the urgency of the discussed topic. Finally, these findings showed that the Nanokaravaan holds openings for public engagement but these openings needed effort
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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