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Nanotechnologies, risk and society

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Nanotechnologies, like other emergent technologies, have had mixed receptions: heightened expectations of their likely benefits are accompanied with uncertainties and fears about their potential consequences. Scientists and policymakers are acutely aware of the significance of public perceptions for the successful realisation of technologies, which is especially evident in recent policy documents and debates on nanotechnologies. Trust, or rather its absence, has been identified as a core issue of contemporary risk governance. In this context, questions regarding the ways in which risk calculations are communicated are bound to be crucial where the establishment of public support is concerned. While there has been a shift in the rhetoric of science communication, intended to signal a greater emphasis on public engagement during the early phase of technology development, the extent to which publics are currently able to shape the direction of policies affecting nanotechnology invite careful scrutiny. This special issue focuses on the public representation of the possible health risks associated with nanotechnologies, and the communication processes shaping perceptions of these risks in different settings. The articles highlight the need for more interdisciplinary research addressing the social, ethical and risk issues posed by nanotechnologies and raise questions that range beyond those traditionally raised in discussions about risk, such as those pertaining to the contexts shaping innovation processes and the methods of enhancing pubic communication. The articles represent the beginnings of an attempt to understand the complexity and ambivalence surrounding publics' perceptions of this emergent set of technologies.
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Keywords: Nanotechnologies; health risk; nanoparticles; public engagement; trust

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Law and Social Science, University of Plymouth, UK 2: Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK 3: School of Cultural Studies, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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