Accepted Paper:

Emerging Technologies and the Public Sphere  


Lotte Krabbenborg (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper contributes to the notion of ‘ecologies of participation’ by arguing that in order to better align emerging technologies with societal needs and values, the development and societal embedding of emerging technologies should a be topic for debate in the public sphere.

Paper long abstract:

Better aligning emerging technologies with societal needs, issues and value is a cross-cutting theme in current innovation policies. An important role in this respect is assigned to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They are positioned as 'voices of civil society': knowledgeable in giving voice to concerns and wishes of society.

In this paper I argue that two problems arise when NGOs are positioned as 'voices of civil society'. First, NGOs do not always see themselves as representatives of civil society. Second, such a positioning underestimates the socio-technical complexity involved (Brown, 2009; Stirling, 2008). I will argue that the challenge is not how to involve more NGOs, even though they can play a valuable role, but the challenge is how to create an active public sphere that includes emerging technologies as topic for deliberation.

The public sphere, referring to an open, meta-topical deliberative system in society where people can engage in extended deliberations (reaching across space and time) through a variety of media (Taylor 2002; Parkinson&Mansbridge, 2012), in principle allows for continuous inquiry into and articulation of what is happening in society upon which better informed decisions can be made. There is as yet no tradition to include emerging technologies as a topic for deliberation in the public sphere.

Building upon empirical insights into controversies raised by the development of nanotechnology and biofuels, I will show how extended deliberation between technology developers and NGOs via e.g. Twitter and websites led to mutual learning. I will conclude by formulating tentative requirements with regard to an extended public sphere.

Panel T144
Ecologies of participation: Thinking systemically about science and technology by other means