Trust in Nanotechnology? On Trust as Analytical Tool in Social Research on Emerging Technologies

NanoEthics 5 (1):15-28 (2011)
Abstract
Trust has become an important aspect of evaluating the relationship between lay public and technology implementation. Experiences have shown that a focus on trust provides a richer understanding of reasons for backlashes of technology in society than a mere focus of public understanding of risks and science communication. Therefore, trust is also widely used as a key concept for understanding and predicting trust or distrust in emerging technologies. But whereas trust broadens the scope for understanding established technologies with well-defined questions and controversies, it easily fails to do so with emerging technologies, where there are no shared questions, a lack of public familiarity with the technology in question, and a restricted understanding amongst social researchers as to where distrust is likely to arise and how and under which form the technology will actually be implemented. Rather contrary, ‘trust’ might sometimes even direct social research into fixed structures that makes it even more difficult for social research to provide socially robust knowledge. This article therefore suggests that if trust is to maintain its important role in evaluating emerging technologies, the approach has to be widened and initially focus not on people’s motivations for trust, but rather the object of trust it self, as to predicting how and where distrust might appear, how the object is established as an object of trust, and how it is established in relation with the public
Keywords Co-production  Precautions  Prediction  Public understanding of nanotechnology  Social research in nanotechnology  Socially robust knowledge  Surveys  Trust  Trustworthiness
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