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Risks as a point of view: Scientists' social representations of nanotechnology

Abstract : Nanotechnologies are becoming a larger presence in everyday life and are viewed by governments and economic actors as a key area for development. The theory of social representations proposes that the general public appropriates scientific information on the basis of common sense understandings, leading to the emergence of new hybrid forms of knowledge, or social representations. Starting from the assumption that scientists too can share common sense knowledge of areas outside their expertise, this work attempted a systematic assessment of how background knowledge about nanotechnology may influence how experts perception them. Study 1 demonstrates the existence of a polarized representation of nanotechnologies among experts, contrasting opportunity (medical, economic, and technological) and risk. This finding constitutes the first demonstration of a common-sense assumption, often found unexamined in the literature, that representations of ‘emerging’ technologies are structured along a risk-opportunity polarity. Interestingly, risk was distinguished at two levels: that associated with nanomaterial characteristics (toxicity, reactivity) and at the larger scale of impact (health, environment, legislation). This polarity could suggest the existence of an on-going debate among scientists with opposed visions on nanotechnology. Study 2 surveyed a larger sample of experts who self-described their scientific background and role viz. nanotechnology. Role had no visible influence. Specialists consensually viewed that nanotechnology represents opportunity, but depending on scientific background they did not agree to the same extent that nanotechnology also constitutes a risk. Participants with a physics and chemistry background tended to represent nanotechnologies predominantly in terms of opportunities and not in terms of inherent risks or impacts. In contrast, toxicologists, life and social scientists appeared to explicitly incorporate both benefits and risks in their representation of this new technology. Environmental scientists were a more diverse group, divided between the two patterns of representation.
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Contributor : Raquel Bertoldo Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Monday, January 23, 2017 - 1:58:03 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, August 4, 2022 - 5:00:01 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-01443204, version 1


Raquel Bertoldo, Claire Mays, Marc Poumadère, Nina Schneider, Claus Svendsen. Risks as a point of view: Scientists' social representations of nanotechnology. Society for Risk Analysis - Europe, Jun 2016, Bath, United Kingdom. ⟨hal-01443204⟩



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