Nanotechnology Risk Perception and Communication Specialist Meeting

January 29-30, 2010
Santa Barbara, California

This Specialist Meeting was convened under the auspices of the NSF-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at University of California at Santa Barbara.

The workshop was held for a day and half on Friday & Saturday January 29-30th, 2010, with participation by invitation only. Conveners were CNS-UCSB Director and lead Principal Investigator, Barbara Herr Harthorn, and the co-leaders of her research group in the CNS, Nick Pidgeon, Cardiff University, UK, and Terre Satterfield, University of British Columbia, Canada.

| Aim | Agenda | Participants | Photographs |


Aims:  The purpose of the meeting is to move forward theoretical and empirical knowledge about nanotech risk perception and communication. Early empirical work on public understandings of nanotechnology has largely progressed without extensive reference to risk perceptions theory or methodology.  Equally, it has failed to fully avail itself of long standing insights on the construction of preference and methodological practice for addressing labile values in this upsteam context (i.e., where awareness of this new class of technologies remains low). Some new work on deliberation has emerged, but further discussion of the implications of this ‘upstream’ moment for method and theory is crucial. Finally, the emergence of new media and the as yet nascent status of risk amplification/attenuation has, again, new implications for risk communication that we hope also to explore. We see the workshop as an ideal way of taking stock of these more recent developments in the field.  

Questions: At four years into the study of nanotech risk perception (CNS-UCSB was founded in January 2006), we are aiming to use this meeting to look at:

  • What are the gaps in current understanding (empirical, theoretical)?
  • What are the surprises in what we’ve learned so far? and
  • Should new research proceed in the field? And what directions should it take?
  • Given that our research was founded on theories of risk perception and SARF, how does the upstream nanotech case suggest revision or rethinking about SARF

More specific empirical and theoretical topics of interest to the conveners include: nanotechnologies as perturbing elements in conventional thought and practice about how we think about risk perception and governance; issues posed by emergent technologies for understanding amplification and attenuation of risk; cross-national differences in risk perception; application specificity of nanotech risk perceptions; novel methodological approaches to the study of emergent risk; "real risk" and perceived risk in the nanotech context; current views on if and how 'education' or deeper forms of deliberation shape risk perception; mental models and risk communication; politics of nanotech risk, risk perception, and regulation; constructed preference; gender, race and other social locations and differences as factors in risk perception; affect and risk perception; media and risk communication; and cultural values as drivers or shapers of perception.

Contributions: Each participant will be asked to contribute in advance a white paper on some topic from their own research expertise or a brief description of empirical work. Those who are not working in the nanotech field but have important theoretical and methodological contributions to offer may prefer to contribute in other ways to the workshop and will be asked to serve as discussants.