The politics of buzzwords at the interface of technoscience, market and society: The case of ‘public engagement in science’

Bernadette Bensaude Vincent

Emerging technologies such as genomics, nanotechnology, and converging technologies are surrounded by a constellation of fashionable stereotyped phrases such as ‘public engagement in science’, ‘responsible innovation’, ‘green technology’, or ‘personalised medicine’. Buzzwords are ubiquitous and used ad libitum by science policy makers, industrial companies in their advertisements, scientists in their research proposals, and journalists. Despite their proliferation in the language of scientific and technological innovation, these buzzwords have attracted little attention among science studies scholars. The purpose of this paper is to try to understand if, and how buzzwords shape the technoscientific landscape. What do they perform? What do they reveal? What do they conceal? Based on a case study of the phrase ‘public engagement in science’, this paper describes buzzwords as linguistic technologies, capable of three major performances: buzzwords generate matters of concern and play an important role in trying to build consensus; they set attractive goals and agendas; they create unstable collectives through noise.

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