technology

Different ways of problematising biotechnology – and what it means for technology governance

Alexander Bogner, Helge Torgersen

To understand controversies over technologies better, we propose the concept of ‘problematisation’. Drawing on Foucault’s idea of problematisation and on the concept of frames in media research, we identify characteristic forms of problematising biotechnology in pertaining controversies, typically emphasising ethical, risk or economic aspects. They provide a common basis for disputes and allow participants to argue effectively. The different forms are important for how controversies are negotiated, which experts get involved, what role public engagement plays and how political decisions are legitimised – in short, for technology governance. We develop a heuristic for analysing the link between forms of problematisation and different options for technology governance. Applied to synthetic biology, we discuss different problematisations of this technology and the implications for governance.

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New surveillance technologies and their publics: A case of biometrics

Aaron K. Martin aaron, Kevin P. Donovan

Before a newly-elected government abandoned the project in 2010, for at least eight years the British state actively sought to introduce a mandatory national identification scheme for which the science and technology of biometrics was central. Throughout the effort, government representatives attempted to portray biometrics as a technology that was easily understandable and readily accepted by the public. However, neither task was straightforward. Instead, particular publics emerged that showed biometric technology was rarely well understood and often disagreeable. In contrast to some traditional conceptualizations of the relationship between public understanding and science, it was often those entities that best understood the technology that found it least acceptable, rather than those populations that lacked knowledge. This paper analyzes the discourses that pervaded the case in order to untangle how various publics are formed and exhibit differing, conflicting understandings of a novel technology.

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The Bio:Fiction film festival: Sensing how a debate about synthetic biology might evolve

Markus Schmidt, Angela Meyer, Amelie Cserer

Synthetic biology (SB) is a new techno-scientific field surrounded by an aura of hope, hype and fear. Currently it is difficult to predict which way the public debate – and thus the social shaping of technology – is heading. With limited hard evidence at hand, we resort to a strategy that takes into account speculative design and diegetic prototyping, accessing the Bio:Fiction science film festival, and its 52 short films from international independent filmmakers. Our first hypothesis was that these films could be used as an indicator of a public debate to come. The second hypothesis was that SB would most likely not follow the debate around genetic engineering (framing technology as conflict) as assumed by many observers. Instead, we found good evidence for two alternative comparators, namely nanotechnology (technology as progress) and information technology (technology as gadget) as stronger attractors for an upcoming public debate on SB.

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