Modeling Technoscience and Nanotechnology Assessment

Perspectives and Dilemmas

by Ewa Binczyk (Author) Tomasz Stepien (Author)
©2014 Monographs X, 206 Pages


This book is presented by two authors who worked in close cooperation. The first part is written by Ewa Bińczyk and discusses various postulates that have been formulated in response to the problem of the unwanted side-effects of the practical success of technoscience which derive from two theoretical perspectives: the study of risk and science and technology studies (STS), inspired by actor-network theory (ANT). In the second part of the book Tomasz Stępień analyses and characterizes the nano-domain as an example of the development of techno-sciences. Generally, in the case of nanotechnology this book calibrates reciprocally to each other the indeed familiar but also slightly different theoretical approaches established in the philosophy of science and technology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of content
  • Foreword
  • Caring about the future of the collective. Monitoring technoscience in the sociology of risk and science and technology studies (by Ewa Bińczyk)
  • A. Starting point
  • The modern shape of technoscience
  • B. Proposals
  • Beck’s cosmopolitanism and the challenges posed by the risk society
  • Latour’s “politics of nature”
  • Transformation of the boundary conditions of the public debate on innovation
  • Concrete ways of expanding participation (and their respective weaknesses)
  • The Precautionary Principle, Technology Assessment (TA) and select examples of other institutional solutions
  • The macro-ethics of global responsibility
  • Conclusion
  • Literature
  • Nanotechnology. Assessment and Convergence inside the Technoscience (by Tomasz Stępień)
  • A. Constitution of Nano-Domain as Science and Technology
  • 1. The background of technological convergence: From ‘normal’ to ‘post-normal’ science
  • 1.1. Theoretical framework of nanotechnology
  • 1.2. Methodological aspects of nanotechnology
  • 1.3. Dimensions of nanotechnology and the necessity of modified theory of science
  • 2. Science and society relationship in the case of nano-domain
  • 2.1. Nanotechnology and the concept of a socially robust science
  • 2.2. Political background and societal impacts of nano-domain
  • 2.3. Nanotechnology and the public opinion: Politics of nano-images
  • B. Nanotechnology and Development of Assessment Regime
  • 3. General issues of risk assessment by converging technologies
  • 4. Nanotechnology: risk assessment and precautionary principle
  • 4.1. Characteristics of risk in nanotechnology
  • 4.2. Risk management in nanotechnology
  • 4.3. Strategies by nano-risk communication and nano-visions assessment
  • C. Ethical Aspects: Nano-Safety and Nanotoxicology
  • 5. Nano-Safety and Nanotoxicology
  • 6. Ethical, legal and societal implications of nanotechnology
  • 7. Nanoethics or explorative philosophy of nanotechnology
  • D. Convergence and Nanotechnology Assessment
  • 8. Converging technologies: Categories, principles and fields
  • 9. Principle of technological convergence
  • 10. Multidisciplinary framework of nanotechnology assessment
  • References
  • Index

← vi | vii → Foreword

We present the book that was jointly prepared as a result of cooperation between two authors. The first part of the book, entitled “Caring about the future of the collective. Monitoring technoscience in the sociology of risk and science and technology studies” was written by Ewa Bińczyk – a philosopher of science from Nicolaus Copernicus University. Bińczyk discusses various postulates of a theoretical, social and political nature that have been formulated in response to the problem of the unwanted side-effects of the practical success of technoscience. They derive from two theoretical perspectives: the contemporary study of risk and science and technology studies (STS), inspired by what is called the actor-network theory (ANT).

She starts by asking about the very nature of modern science, commercialized and politicized in many aspects. In her part of the book Bińczyk builds the space for normative and institutional reactions to the problem of risk. We find there analyses of political and philosophical propositions, macro-ethical postulates, as well as concrete proposals for legal solutions and projects in the field of social policy and management. All of them are systematically presented, critically commented on and, in the last part of the book, reformulated in coherent a way as possible.

Bińczyk convinces us that we are faced with a particular conceptual revolution, taking place in front of our eyes. It establishes a new vocabulary for our thinking about politics, technology, responsibility and the civilizational role of technoscience. This conceptual revolution challenges our routinely accepted beliefs on society, the dynamics of social change, effectiveness, laboratories, infrastructures, progress and the need for economic growth.

Tomasz Stępień – a philosopher of culture and technology from Wrocław University of Technology – in the second part of the book with the title “Nanotechnology. Assessment and Convergence inside Technoscience” convincingly illustrates the postulates and general theses formulated by Bińczyk. He concentrates upon the very details of nanoscience and nanotechnology. His account derives from a familiar but slightly different tradition, namely: technology assessment. He analyses and characterizes nano-domain as an example of the development of techno-sciences from the point of view of philosophy of technology including three main theoretical approaches: technology assessment (TA), science and technology studies (STS) and converging technologies (CT). The starting point in his part of the book is the theoretical and methodological constitution of nano-domain as science and technology, what makes out the ← vii | viii → framework of nanotechnology assessment regime with questions related with the nanotoxicology and the Precautionary Principle. In the following Stępień presents the ongoing debate with controversies and dilemmas in the field of nano-ethics. The last part is an endeavour to design a multidisciplinary framework of technology assessment with nanotechnology as condition of technological convergence. Generally, in the case of nanotechnology it is an attempt to calibrate reciprocally to each other the indeed familiar but also slightly different theoretical approaches established in the present philosophy of science and technology.

We easily find numerous common assumptions characterizing both narrations. First of all, both authors jointly understand science as ‘post-academic’, ‘post-normal’ and socially robust. Both parts of the book picture university as entrepreneurial (as they write: knowing and producing are never separated). Taking these circumstances into account both Bińczyk and Stępień agree that the principle of self-regulation of science and research must be radically questioned. In fact, they articulate the need for a new contract between science and society (instead of the false linear model of autonomous science). As they emphasize, technoscience in general and nanoscience/nanotechnology in particular must remain transparent to the public and subjected to moral/political responsibility.

The book convinces us that the diffuse distribution of responsibility in the contemporary risk society is one of our most urgent political concerns. Yet, Bińczyk and Stępień postulate a theoretical attitude towards technoscience in general and nanotechnology in particular that is situated beyond utopian promises or dystopian fears. They notice that the problem of equity (e.g. fair distribution of profits and benefits of a given technology) must be stated openly, according to the rules of inter-generational distributive justice. As they underline, in fact each technology increases existing inequalities of good distribution.

Both philosophers emphasize the strategic role of the humanities in the development of key technologies. The humanities provide the necessary reflecting attitude. They can play an important role in moderating dialogue, monitoring laboratories, creating common languages and vocabularies, implementing public discussion and identifying possible obstacles to it. At the same time, they critically highlight the fact that one public with homogeneous and predictable views does not exist. While creating public dialogues about future innovations we need to take it into account.

In the face of the problems of delayed or unforeseeable side-effects of discoveries and innovations both Bińczyk and Stępień discuss the very reasonableness and possible ways of implementing the Precautionary Principle. They underline the need to avoid the Collingridge dilemma related to technology assessment (that assessment is always implemented too soon or too late). Stępień emphasizes ← viii | ix → that too much speculation too soon may result in the creation of unwanted artificial public concern. According to this author, what is especially important is that nanotechnology assessment is exactly ‘at the right time’. In this domain ‘ethics first’ is currently implemented in front of our eyes – a reflection about possible, unwanted, social, ethical or political side-effects is here implemented as an integral part on the basic-research level. Therefore, in the domain of nanotechnology we have a good chance to observe how these processes of monitoring work. Both authors hope that creating successful nanotechnology assessment may constitute for us a good opportunity of learning how to create successful public debates also about other innovations and discoveries.

Ewa Bińczyk, Tomasz Stępień ← ix | x →

← x | 1 → Ewa Bińczyk

Caring about the future of the collective. Monitoring technoscience in the sociology of risk and science and technology studies1

We must most of all lower our arrogance decibels.
Immanuel Wallerstein, The End of the World As We Know It

When identifying the major political challenges facing the risk society, Ulrich Beck invokes the metaphor of a plane journey – he claims that we are asked to embark upon a journey whose destination remains uncertain and unknown. He writes: “the actors who are supposed to be the guarantors of security and rationality – the state, science and industry – are engaged in a highly ambivalent game. They are also no longer trustees but suspects, no longer managers of risks but also sources of risks. For they are urging the population to climb into an aircraft for which a landing strip has not yet been built” (Beck 2008: 12). Among these “suspect” agencies, the German sociologist lists the state, science and industry. These are not trustworthy as areas that can guarantee the stability of the course.

Various postulates of a theoretical, social and political nature have been formulated in response to the problem of the unintended consequences of the practical success of science and technology. Our goal will be to present and critically discuss proposals of this type, which derive in large measure from the study of risk and science and technology studies (STS). We shall seek to define the space for normative and institutional reactions to the problem of risk. We shall analyse political and philosophical reflections, chosen conceptual redefinitions, ethical postulates, as well as concrete proposals for legal solutions and projects in the field of social policy and management. What form do they currently take? In which direction should they be heading?

← 1 | 2 → We will start by asking about the nature of modern science, in particular its ties to industry and the regulations imposed by the state. A presentation of previously neglected determinants of technoscience, situated within an ever tightening network of market and political forces, will be the starting point for further reflection on normative, ethical and political topics.

We shall also strive to understand the reasons for the situation described by Beck. This shall take numerous paths. For we will attempt to identify the underpinnings of the peculiar helplessness of the main agencies of modern society when it comes to the problem of the unintended consequences of the practical success of science. Is it possible to indicate the mechanisms that legitimise and support the said helplessness? In what ways are they connected to the assumptions shaping the public’s view of experts, science and technology? How does our view of society and the dynamics of social change influence our perception of the problem of risk? Finally, what types of mental prejudgements allow us to ignore risk or redefine this problem as insignificant?

We know that modern risk derives from the intensification of global, heterogeneous connections. It arises from the impacts of technoscience and industry. From a certain moment in history, scientific laboratories have enabled the professional, effective and intensive mobilisation of an uncountable multitude of new actors (facts, artefacts, technologies, micro-organisms, medical solutions, environmental problems). Entering into unexpected relationships with the entities already peopling the collective, these constructs have started to modify the latter’s nature, often resulting in destabilisation.

I would like to underline that the arguments presented below do not lead to the conclusion that the further “evolution” of humanity, or the “advance” of technologies, should be conservatively blocked. We have no other choice but to accept that to a certain extent, every novelty or change has a certain potential for destabilisation, or may even be a threat. Literature and the humanities as well as the ideas they introduce also bring about destabilisation. The phenomenon is not uniquely proper to technoscience. We can reach the same conclusion regarding mass media or the internet, whose effects are instantaneous and have a global reach. Technoscience should therefore not be blocked. Rather, the point is to have a public discussion about its true role and link to market mechanisms.


X, 206
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
ANT Actor-Network-Theory Risikogesellschaft Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie NTA Nanotechnologie
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. X, 206 pp.

Biographical notes

Ewa Binczyk (Author) Tomasz Stepien (Author)

Ewa Bińczyk, PhD in philosophy, habilitation in philosophy of science; works at the Nicolas Copernicus University; Scholarship for Young Researchers from the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP), the Fulbright Scholarship, «Polityka» Scholarship; main research fields: philosophy of Science, philosophy of technology, sociology of scientific knowledge. Tomasz Stępień, PhD; Head of Political Science and Social Communication Research Unit at the Wrocław University of Technology, Department of Humanities; Scholarships of European Commission and Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation; main research fields: philosophy of culture and technology, technology assessment, research and science policy, international relations.


Title: Modeling Technoscience and Nanotechnology Assessment
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218 pages