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Opening up nanotechnology dialogue with the publics: Risk communication or 'upstream engagement'?

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Public participation is becoming increasingly popular with emerging health technologies, such as nanotechnologies, which may pose novel ethical, social or risk issues in the future. Nanotechnologies represent an important test case for so-called 'upstream' engagement: that is public participation before significant research and development has taken place and before establishment of firm public attitudes or social representations about an issue. We discuss the origins of this development in the parallel intellectual traditions of risk communication and science and technology studies, respectively. We argue that such engagement does not simply involve moving the same forms of analytic deliberative process that have been used in the past to an earlier time, but it requires engaging in a new set of questions with the publics. Reflecting upon evidence from NanoJury UK, the first citizens jury on nanotechnology in the UK, we argue that processes of upstream engagement require moving beyond conventional approaches to discussing 'risks' found in much public dialogue and traditional forms of risk communication, to open up debate about values and visions for the future.

Keywords: NanoJury UK risk communication; Nanotechnologies; upstream engagement

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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