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.
This project, carried out in partnership with Lancaster University, was generously supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, through its Sustainable Technologies Programme.