Schuijer, Jantien Drs.

Giving shape to responsible research and innovation in the context of nanotechnologies

Athena Instituut, Faculteit der Aard- en Levenswetenschappen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, j.w.schuijer@vu.nl

Supervisor: Prof. Jacqueline Broers and Dr. Frank Kupper

Background

I hold a Bachelors Degree in Neuroscience (Psychobiology, University of Amsterdam), and a Masters Degree in Health and Life Sciences (Management, Policy Analysis and Entrepreneurship in the Health and Life Sciences, VU University). In 2015, I wrote my MA thesis on the ethics of Transcranial Direct Current stimulation to enhance cognitive performance of healthy children. After my graduation, I started working as a PhD student at the Athena Institute.

Summary 

Nanotechnologies have gained increasing interest over the last few decades. Advocates of these new and emerging technologies claim that they will bring world prosperity, and emphasize the technologies’ potential to contribute to major global issues such as those related to food supply, medical treatment, pharmaceuticals, and environmental pollution (Roco & Bainbridge, 2005). They foresee that nanotechnologies will engender a new industrial revolution with incredible economic benefits (Davies, Kearnes & Macnaghten, 2010). Despite these great promises, critical voices have been raised that express concerns about the risks of nanotechnologies for human health and the environment (Roco & Bainbridge, 2005). They underscore that nanotechnologies could drastically change the structures and behaviours in our society – also in unexpected and less desirable ways –, and thereby stress the need to explore the social and ethical implications of nanotechnology developments (Pidgeons & Rogers-Hayden, 2007).

The need to deliberate about social and ethical implications of new and emerging technologies is increasingly being recognized in the European Union (Owen, Macnaghten & Stilgoe, 2012). Recent controversies that were infused by a lack of attention for public responses, such as the controversy around genetically modified crops, have further highlighted the importance to incorporate public perspectives at an early stage of technological development (Davies, Kearnes & Macnaghten, 2010). Since nanotechnology is considered to be a field of practice that is still in its infancy, it has been welcomed as an excellent opportunity to experiment with early stakeholder and citizen engagement, and to use public deliberation as a mechanism to steer technological innovation trajectories now that many of the significant decisions still have to be made (Davies, Kearnes & Macnaghten, 2010). The early deliberation processes should contribute to responsible research and innovation in the field of nanotechnologies, and should centralize the acceptability, desirability and sustainability of the technologies’ products and practices (Kupper, Klaassen, Rijnen et al., 2015).
In order to stimulate an on-going (public) dialogue among stakeholders and citizens the European Commission has been funding a diverse range of engagement projects. One of these projects is NANO2ALL, a multi-stakeholder dialogue project that aims to establish a societal roadmap towards responsible trajectories in research and innovation in the field of nanotechnology. In the context of this dialogue project, I will perform research on how to design and facilitate both citizen and multi-stakeholder dialogues to contribute effectively to the embedment of public perspectives in innovation trajectories.