A small nanotechnology & society workshop

A small nanotechnology & society workshop

Wednesday 9 June 2010, 14.00-16.00

University of Twente, Capitool 15 (off campus), Enschede, room C009

-- The Wullweber Workshop --

On Wednesday 9 June2010 Joscha Wullweber (University of Kassel) will present at the lunch colloquium of STəPS (Science, Technology and Policy Studies), 12.30 – 13.45, room C009, on his discourse-theoretical and political-economy analysis of nanotechnology as an ‘empty signifier’. (Please find the abstract of a relevant article of his below.)

After the colloquium, we organize a small workshop to continue the discussion in more depth, and to add further analysis of such issues on the basis of ongoing work in STəPS and TA NanoNed. Participation is open. Participants are expected to have read Joscha Wullweber’s article. (They might want to join the preceding colloquium.)

Two broad themes will frame the discussion:


The open-ended character of nanotechnology and the role of the label NANOTECHNOLOGY


Social theory about nanotechnology in society (there are lots of empirical studies, but little attempt at theory)

The workshop will start at 2 p.m. with some brief reflections by Joscha Wullweber.

Comments and own analysis by various participants, starting with Arie Rip on ‘Nanotechnology as an umbrella term and the politics of technoscience’.

Other relevant themes in the work of STəPS and TA NanoNed are ‘wating games related to dual dynamics of promises’ (Ali Parandian, Haico te Kulve), ‘responsible development’ (Haico te Kulve, Arie Rip) and ‘images as empty signifiers’ (Martin Ruivenkamp).

The discussion will be open and informal. Arie Rip will play the role of chairperson.

We will end by 4 p.m.

If you plan to come, drop a line to Arie Rip (a.rip@utwente.nl) with a copy to Evelien Rietberg (e.rietberg@utwente.nl). If you don’t have the pdf version of Joscha Wullweber’s article already, you can ask for a copy to be sent to you.

A recent (draft) version of the analysis in the STI Studies article, with some more detail about USA NNI, is available for inspection. Joscha’s PhD thesis has now appeared as a book: Hegemonie, Diskurs und politische Ökonomie. Das Nanotechnologie-Projekt (Nomos Verlag)


Arie Rip (STəPS and TA NanoNed)

Joscha Wullweber, Nanotechnology – An Empty Signifier à venir? A Delineation of a Techno-socio-economical Innovation Strategy, Science, Technology & Innovation Studies Vol. 4, No. 1, July 2008, 27-45

The aim of this article is twofold: First, I would like to theoretically contribute to Science and Technology Studies, and to Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, respectively, by introducing a hegemony- and discourse-theoretical inspired political economy as an interdisciplinary approach. And second, I shall present some tentative empirical analyses of the policy field of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is widely perceived as the key technology of the 21st century. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important in many government policies devoted to technology. Nanotechnology is supposedly appealing for many actors, since it is expected to both produce entirely new materials and revolutionize production processes in virtually all industrial branches. Approaching the ‘nano-hype’ from a discourse-theoretical perspective, I shall show that nanotechnology is not a definite technology, but an empty signifier. This empty signifier provides the basis for an encompassing socio-economic project that is kept together only by the signifier itself. This “innovation project” creates a link between nanotechnology and the future of the industrialised states. It aims, above others, at their reconstruction along competitive criteria as ‘competition states’. Hence, I shall locate nanotechnology policies within a discursive field of political and economic interests and strategies.

My theoretical approach highlights the importance of hegemonic struggles for the construction of (political) reality. Hegemonic practices shape the discursive structure, which, in turn provides the strategic-selective conditions for articulation. Accordingly, policymaking can be described as a rather performative process, which uses complex systems of representation to establish a situation of stability and predictability. Hence, the governance of nanotechnology has to be understood as a contradictory battleground, where certain actors try to enforce their interests.