5Understanding Nanotechnology: A Process Involving Contested Assignments of Meaning

In the debate in society – today, one would say that it was the first RRI debate at all [GRU 14a] – nanotechnology was initially considered to be disruptive and an “entirely different” technology. Its possible consequences appeared to include wonders as well as apocalyptic catastrophes. Today, it is considered more to be a special form of research in materials science, in other words, as something entirely normal. An interesting process of appropriation has taken place. The topic of this chapter is precisely how this has taken place. It turns out that debates concerning the meaning both of techno-visionary futures and of definitions and characterizations have played a role in providing orientation for the social appropriation of nanotechnology.

5.1. Nanotechnology: a paradigmatic RRI story

In the 1990s, there was little public concern about nanotechnology. The prefix “nano” was frequently used as a synonym for good science and technology. The far-reaching promises of nanotechnology were based on its potential to generate materials for completely new applications and to realize novel processes and systems, as well as on the ability to target and fine-tune its properties by controlling its composition and structure down to molecular and atomic levels [DRE 86]. Because of this, nanotechnology was expected to trigger innovations in many areas of application and almost all branches of industry. Its ...

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