Making a difference? - Nanotechnology and the quest for Responsible Innovation
Bart Walhout is a PhD student in the section Knowledge, Transformation and Society (KiTeS, department of Technology, Policy and Society). (Co)promotors are prof.dr. S. Kuhlmann and dr. K.E. Konrad from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences.
At the start of this century billion-dollar investments in nanotechnology gave rise to public and political debate about the impact of nanotechnology on society. Much like Artificial Intelligence today, developments in nanotechnology were accompanied with high promises, for example on breakthroughs in cancer therapy or in clean energy. But the powerful abilities of nanotechnology also came with uncertainties about safety of nanomaterials for health and the environment and with moral concerns about the evermore intimate relation between humans and machines. A new discussion about responsibility came up, which continues until today. How can we foster Responsible Innovation in such a way that it goes beyond a narrow focus on individual responsibilities and avoiding harm, towards a culture of care for the future?
This thesis engages with the quest for Responsible Innovation by focusing on its main aim: to transform responsibility in research and innovation. It presents a model for analyzing how new ideas about responsibility have to take root in existing distributions of responsibility and how local experiments can be levelled up to changing networks and institutions. This model is applied to in-depth case studies of four prestigious efforts of practicing Responsible Innovation in nanotechnology.
The analysis shows that the challenges of transformation are about interdependencies. The new has to grow in and from the old. Responsibilities are called upon, while they have to be reconfigured at the same time. National action and international coordination are interrelated. What is being anticipated depends on who is involved and vice versa. Etcetera. Such interdependencies cannot be resolved by individual actors alone. But they can move forward by improving processes of learning. This thesis presents a model for making sense of the challenges of transformation, so as to make a difference in the end.