Reference : From Bio to Nano: Learning From The Past to Shape the Future of Technology Assessment
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Unpublished conference/Abstract
Law, criminology & political science : Political science, public administration & international relations
From Bio to Nano: Learning From The Past to Shape the Future of Technology Assessment
Delvenne, Pierre mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
Fallon, Catherine mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de science politique > Politologie générale et administration publique >]
Thoreau, François mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
Brunet, Sébastien mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Département de science politique > Gouvernance et société >]
Society for the History Of Technology (SHOT) Annual Meeting
10-14 octobre 2008
[en] Nanotechnology ; Biotechnology ; Technology assessment
[en] In many Western countries over the last 35 years, the quest for more scientific governance on
<br />crucial technological issues led to a broadening of the political world’s sphere of competences.
<br />Indeed, various countries decided that dealing with global, invisible, irreversible and irreparable
<br />risks had to be handled by an appropriate tool of management of technological innovations. So the
<br />usefulness to institutionalize parliamentary Technology Assessment (PTA) offices emerged.
<br />Nowadays, PTA is an instrument particularly suitable to study the new shape of science and
<br />society’s interface and it represents a remarkable attempt to reform the institutional settings of
<br />innovation.
<br />However, while the overall uncertainty surrounding science and technology has been used by public
<br />actors like parliamentarians or ministers in the past to legitimize a first generation of PTAs, the
<br />emergence of a second generation in the 1990’s – centred on the constructive, interactive or
<br />participatory TA approches – emphazises the co-evolution of technology and society rather than the
<br />former linear determinist rationale. In this context, the STS community of scholars is increasingly
<br />called upon by the public authorities to provide a “professional service role” (RIP, 1994), that is to
<br />say to take a step into action out of the border of their intellectual engagement.
<br />Then, we suggest to compare two successive periods by looking at the institutional management of
<br />two distinct-but-complementary technological issues: biotechnology and nanotechnology. The
<br />former has been taken into account by public actors at a time when the second generation of PTAs
<br />was not yet rooted in the political practices. Thus, the management of the public debate related to
<br />biotechnology has been characterized by a lack of sensitive, fruitful and interactive communication
<br />between the stakeholders involved in the TA process, while the first applications were already being
<br />commercialized. On the other hand, the latter is currently being tackled at a moment when the social
<br />shaping of technology is widely acknowledged as well as the STS community may be invited to
<br />pass from observation to participation in the political sphere. Given the uncertainty and complexity
<br />encircling nanotechnology as well as its huge potential in many interconnected disciplinary fields,
<br />the need to avoid the pitfall of the biotechnology’s experience is commonly accepted.
<br />We offer to take nanotechnology as one of the most challenging technological issue to look beyond
<br />the biotechnology’s roadblock and to show in which proportion the same scenario is reasonably
<br />thinkable today, in order to spotlight whether we have learnt from the past in considering what is
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<br />sometimes called “a new industrial revolution”.
<br />We will raise some research questions like: how different are current TA practices as compared to
<br />former ones? Are there new regimes emerging? Given the current technological convergence, how
<br />complicated would it be to deal with NBIC technologies if we missed the point with biotechnology
<br />alone? How suitable is PTA to engage in such interdisciplinary issues? Are we assisting the
<br />emergence of a third PTA generation around the growing role of the STS community? How does
<br />this scientific community dialogue with the historians of science who analyzed the earlier industrial
<br />revolutions?

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