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What is the problem? A literature review on challenges facing the communication of nanotechnology to the public

Journal article
Authors Åsa Boholm
Simon Larsson
Published in Journal of nanoparticle research
Volume 21
Issue 4
ISSN 1388-0764
Publication year 2019
Published at Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI)
School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology
Language en
Keywords Responsible innovation; Nanotechnology; Science communication; Upstream engagement; Literature review
Subject categories Sociology, Nano Technology


Ethical and societal issues concerning justice, safety, risks, and benefits are well-established topics in the discourses of nanotechnology innovation and development. That nanotechnology innovation should be socially and ethically responsible is generally accepted by scientists, policymakers, regulators, and industry, and the idea of public involvement and communication is part and parcel of the conceptualization of responsible technology development. This paper systematically reviews the social science research literature accumulated between 2002 and 2018 on the communication of nanotechnology. A critical and constructivist perspective on policy problems guides the analysis. Two questions are asked of this literature: what problems are identified regarding the communication of nanotechnology to the public? How can these problems be managed and/or resolved? Three different problem themes are identified: the public, societal institutions, and nanotechnology itself. While for some identified problems, there are corresponding solutions; in other instances, there is little alignment between problems and solutions. In conclusion, the paper recommends that in communicating nanotechnology to the public: (i) the objectives of communication should be defined; (ii) previous research should be used responsibly; (iii) communication strategies should be adapted to the context; and (iv) effort should not be spent trying to develop a generic framework for communication.

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