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Anticipatory interventions and the co-evolution of nanotechnology and society

University of Twente
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  • Physics


In contrast with earlier emerging technologies, in the case of nanotechnology there is a lot of anticipation sourrounding how it might, or should, become embedded in society. These ‘anticipatory interventions’ not only affect ongoing processes in the present, but also provide directions for the future development and embedding of nanotechnologies. This move toward anticipation of embedding of nanotechnologies is itself part of a more general move toward ‘reflexive co-evolution of science, technology and society’. I focus on the analysis of dynamics in ‘anticipatory interventions’ at the level of domains of application and discuss emerging patterns in reflexive co-evolution. Methodologically, I use interventions as ‘windows on the world’: they allow me to see what is happening in terms of emerging patterns in embedding processes. One ‘window’ is opened by following ‘anticipatory interventions’ by institutional entrepreneurs and forums and assessing what they add up to. Another ‘window’ is opened by conducting Constructive Technology Assessment workshops supported by scenarios. I examine ‘anticipatory interventions’ in two contrasting domains: the application of nanotechnologies for food packaging technologies and for drug delivery systems. Striking across all of my studies is that actors take into account broader aspects of societal emgedding than one would expect on the basis of their position in a sector. One emerging pattern already visible in the present is that pro-active activities to bridge promotion and control of nanotechnologies do not occur ‘across the board’, but in a distribution of labour to shape societal embedding of nanotechnologies. While the substance of anticipations will differ between domains, the reduction of uncertainties via emerging rules and the promotion of anticipatory coordination are general and acknowledged routes for interventions. A second pattern is the ohenomenon of ‘games of societal embedding’. Actors engage in strategic interactions concerning societal embedding. Waiting games are one specific example, which were very visible in my domain studies. Future development are still open-ended. I developed two scenarios, where anticipation of embedding becomes recognized and institutionalized, or is backgrounded in the end. At the moment, however, my observations and analysis indicate that reflexive co-evolution of nanotechnology and society if here to stay.

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