Imagining Nanotechnology in Public Engagement – the Power of Analogies

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 6A P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Claudia SCHWARZ-PLASCHG, University of Vienna, Austria
In recent years, the governance of emerging technosciences such as nanotechnology has entered a new era, in which publics have become relevant stakeholders in deliberating possible sociotechnical futures, for instance via public engagement exercises. This paper will argue that participants in public engagement exercises assess nanotechnology by using their analogical imagination. Analogical imagination—the ability to compare and connect past experiences and knowledge with new phenomena—thus is central for opinion formation and anticipation processes in public engagement settings on emerging technosciences. Building on a detailed analysis of four discussion groups with Austrian citizens, in which nanotechnology was discussed, the paper explores how analogies are used to imagine and argue for specific futures of nano and society. It analyses how (dis)analogies are developed and (con)tested in the course of debate and how particular socio-cultural resources and argumentative strategies influence the way citizens anticipate governance approaches in the Austrian context. A specific focus will be on the role of rejection analogies, that is, how citizens use analogical arguments to plausiblize the collective rejection of specific nanotechnological applications such as nanofood or nano-enabled human enhancement. Based on the analysis, I will propose that not a lack of public trust but other criteria influence why citizens resist certain nanotechnological applications and simultaneously accept others.