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Anticipating the futures of nanotechnology: Visionary images as means of communication

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Reports of the current success and future potential of nanotechnological innovation in the field of medicine are frequently illustrated with images depicting speculative and futuristic visions. Based on a case study of visionary images of nanorobots and mini-submarines in the human body in popular science magazines, the business press and daily and weekly newspapers, this paper demonstrates that, despite their weak reference to current developments in nanomedicine, these images serve as a means of communication for the ‘exchange' of expectations between the discourses of science, economy and the mass media. Through a systems-theoretical and discourse-analytical examination of the dynamics of discourse-networks surrounding these images, the investigation focuses on a certain mediality of futuristic visual images which has been rather neglected in recent Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Technology Assessment. The ‘communicative spaces' suggested by visionary images enable productions of meaning for the current potential of nanotechnological innovations in and between various discourses. The dynamics of expectations within the communication processes can be reconstructed according to the variations of discourse-specific (i.e. scientific) evaluations of the depicted visions, which in turn can be described as the recursive processing of other (i.e. economic and mass medial) evaluations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Sociology, Technical University Darmstadt, Germany

Publication date: 2006-07-01

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