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IRG 3-2: Public Participation in Nanotechnology R&D: Upstream Engagement and Deliberation Research
(Barbara Herr Harthorn, Nick Pidgeon, Karl Bryant, Adam Corner, Rachel Cranfill, Amanda Denes, Shannon Hanna, Jennifer Rogers-Brown, Christine Shearer, Edwina Barvosa, Julie Whirlow)
This research group focuses on identifying factors that influence risk perceptions of nanotechnologies among participants in deliberation groups, and so also influence participatory democracy. Studies have examined nationality, technology use (energy vs. health applications), gender, and language use.
Risk Perceptions, Nationality, and Technology Uses.This research began in 2007 with comparative deliberations in California and the UK exploring how public perceptions of new technologies like nanotechnology differ internationally. Initial findings showed that nanotechnology uses (in energy versus health applications) had stronger effects on participant response than nationality (Nature Nanotechnology, Pidgeon et al. 2009). A follow-up study explored at greater length the pronounced application-based differences in attitudes; the more subtle but important cross-national differences and surprising similarities; and attitudes about trust, responsibility, and regulation, which also varied more intensely by application than by country in this study. The Cardiff team (Pidgeon & Corner) also produced an overview/synthesis of nano public engagement entitled: “Nanotechnologies and upstream public engagement: dilemmas, debates and prospects?” which will be included in the forthcoming Social Life of Nanotechnology book edited by Harthorn and John Mohr.
Gender and Risk Perceptions.To extend this work and follow the suggestive gender differences in perceived risk that emerged within all the groups in the 2007 workshops, Harthorn and Bryant received additional funding from NSF to hold more deliberative workshops and a pilot project in California in summer and fall, 2009. Follow-up studies have resulted in five publications to date, dealing with issues of ambivalence, fairness, nanoethics, application, and food.
Ongoing research includes analysis of gender and language. Papers under development include: the social construction and use of gender, language, and expertise from a linguistic perspective (lead author Cranfill); gendered patterns of interruptions, frequency of talking/silence, and their effects on coalition building or conflict (lead author Denes); dynamics of power and finance in risk perceptions (lead author Shearer); feminist methodologies in deliberations (lead author Rogers-Brown); and a larger piece on gender and why people’s views change or remain fixed in response to new information and group dynamics (lead authors Harthorn and Bryant).
Other ongoing research by Harthorn and Barvosa examines how future deliberative engagement research will incorporate a focus on racial/ethnic identity and multiple identities as factors in risk and benefit perception. The team is also examining in a more fine-grained way how talk/communication is gendered and raced.
In general, research to date supports findings from survey work on the highly gendered nature of technological risk perception, with the goal of explicating how, why and through what kinds of narratives and group dynamics such divergent views emerge in public dialogue, as well as the kinds of responses they generate.