ESEP 12:67-79 (2012)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00124

Engaging whom and for what ends? Australian stakeholders’ constructions of public engagement in relation to nanotechnologies

Alan Petersen1,*, Diana Bowman2

1School of Political and Social Inquiry, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Clayton Campus Monash University, 3800 Victoria, Australia
2Risk Science Center and the Department of Health Management and Policy, The University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor Michigan 48109-2029, USA

ABSTRACT: In recent years the language of public engagement has increasingly infused discussions about the science–society relationship. This is particularly evident in Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe in relation to nanotechnologies. Thus far, the discourse of public engagement has been largely preoccupied with exploring the mechanisms for ‘engaging’ ‘the public’, with single stakeholder-driven events dominating initiatives. Many engagement efforts have reinvented the so-called deficit model of public understanding, whereby ‘the problem’ to be addressed is ‘the public’s’ assumed ‘ignorance’ or lack of awareness of the science. In comparison, there has been little reflection on the assumptions and conceptual frameworks that guide stakeholders’ policies and actions, including constructions of science and citizenship. If one is to address the lack of opportunities for citizen participation in science policymaking, it is essential to question these assumptions and reveal how they guide and limit thinking and action. This article outlines the diverse conceptions of ‘the public’ and ‘public engagement’, reflecting the different values, experiences and positioning of Australian stakeholders within the nanotechnology field. The article seeks to contextualise the discourse of public engagement, highlighting the particular set of conditions and concerns that have shaped its language and practices and the attendant governmental implications. Finally, it concludes by identifying the kinds of strategies that will be required to advance the democratisation of science and technology in the future.


KEY WORDS: Nanotechnologies · Public engagement · Democratisation of science · Stakeholders · Australia


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Cite this article as: Petersen A, Bowman D (2012) Engaging whom and for what ends? Australian stakeholders’ constructions of public engagement in relation to nanotechnologies. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 12:67-79. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00124

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