244.3 Participatory democracy and emerging technologies: A feminist methodological analysis of public deliberations on nanotechnology

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 11:25 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Jennifer ROGERS-BROWN , Sociology & Anthropology, Long Island University, CW Post, Brookville, NY
Christine SHEARER , UC Santa Barbara Center for Nanotechnology in Society
Barbara HERR HARTHORN , UC Santa Barbara, CA
Low public awareness combined with the unknown number of uses for nanotechnology in our lives—for example, health care, water purification, food preservation, and alternative energy sources—sets the stage for the opportunity and need for public involvement in the potential futures of nanotechnologies. However, deliberative projects involving the public pose concerns about who gets to define “the public,” whose voices are heard, and whose voices are silenced. A focus on methods for egalitarian, democratic participation is significant for the construction and deployment of public deliberations held by government agencies and civil service organizations for the purpose of informing policy where all voices have the potential to be heard. This paper presents an analysis of the methods used in six US public deliberations on nanotechnology conducted by Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UC Santa Barbara in 2009. These deliberations were varied by gender composition in order to explore the relationship between gender and risk perception in deliberative settings about nanotechnologies. Drawing on a feminist perspective, we examine how the design of the deliberation, the role of the facilitator, and gender dynamics impact public participation, particularly in relation to the perceptual and cultural bases utilized by our participants as they make sense of a relatively unfamiliar technology within varied group compositions. Additionally, we examine how these narratives are constructed and/or resisted within the group and how social location impacts the dominance of particular narratives.