Making Futures Present

On the Co-production of Nano and Society in the Austrian Context

Project collaborators: Ulrike Felt, Martina Kainrath, Gernot Rieder, Simone Schumann, Claudia Schwarz, Michael Strassnig

FWF - 10/2008-09/2012

Science Meets Society: On the Shaping of Technoscientific Presences and the Role of Possible Futures

The new research field nanotechnology has entered the public arena against the background of debates about the relation of science, technology and society (as for instance those over genetically modified organisms). Since their first appearance, nanotechnologies are closely interwoven with cultural narrations of utopian and dystopian social imaginations. Therefore, nanotechnologies are of special interest for the analysis of the changing relations of science and society. Moreover, “nano” as so-called “enabling technology” links a variety of disciplines and potential fields of application and is thus confronted with different technoscientific and social framings.

The following perspectives are essential for this project:

  • First of all, the production of scientific knowledge does no longer take place solely in the context of “pure basic research” but is replaced by research conducted in various contexts of application. Consequently, expectations and anticipations of potential technoscientific futures start to play a central role for technoscientific enterprises.
  • Secondly, technoscience and society have to be understood as “co-produced” (Jasanoff). This implies that our ways of knowing and our understanding about the world are closely intertwined with the ways we (want to) live in this world. Thus, the following question arises: How can the governance and regulation of science, technology and innovation be organised and what role can public participation and dialogue play in this processes?

Project Goals - Understanding the Relations of the Future and the Present

The goal of the project is to analyse the fundamental construction processes of possible futures in the present and the “technoscientific promises” connected to them. Thus, the focus is on investigating the very (individual and collective) processes through which stakeholders such as scientists, politicians but also members of a wider public construct and evaluate future possibilities as well as possible futures of nanotechnologies. Which resources do actors draw upon when evaluating futures of/for nanotechnologies? In which cultural, media and political contexts do these take place? Which value systems are referred to? How does this enter into scientific work, political decision-making and the visions of citizens? These are the main questions to be analyzed in the project. We will to a lesser extend focus on risk discourses but more on the basic imaginations of technoscientific innovations in contemporary societies. Finally, we will frame and analyze our results with the growing literature and case studies on nanotechnology in other countries to understand to what extend the evaluations of nano are similar globally or on which levels they are rooted in more local cultural contexts.

Methodological Approach

To investigate and analyse the construction of potential futures and their articulations in current decision making and assessments on different levels the project uses as combination of social science methods:

  • Qualitative, semi-structured stakeolder interviews with researchers and policy makers in the nano domain
  • Scenario workshops with citizens on different future settings of nano are the core of the methodological approach
  • Qualitative interviews with selected participants of the scenario workshops
  • Analysis of the „cultural production“ (books, films, etc.) on nanotechnologies
  • Analysis of Austrian news media to get an overview of the public discussion on nano
  • Analysis of relevant science policy documents in the Austrian and EU context

    Inducing and Facilitating Reflection - On the Transdisciplinary Relevance of the Project

    Beyond its scientific aims the project seeks to contribute to a broader societal reflection on the governance of technoscientific innovations. Particularly nanotechnologies in their multiple facets of application pose a great challenge to society in this regard.


    The project team is supported by an international advisory board of renowned STS experts with excellent experiences in the nano domain:

    Further Information

    Interview withUlrike Felt on the"Mythos Nano" in die_universität_online (in German).

    Poster presentation at the "Nanotechnology Governance Compared" Workshop.

    Ulrike Felt: 'Leben in Nanowelten: Zur Ko-Produktion von Nano & Gesellschaft'. Wird erscheinen in Petra Lucht, Martina Erlemann and Esther Ruiz Ben (Hrsg.), Technologisierung gesellschaftlicher Zukünfte. Nanotechnologien in wissenschaftlicher, politischer und öffentlicher Praxis. (Herbolzheim: Centaurus Verlags-GmbH & Co). <download>

    Materials (available only in German)


    Ulrike Felt
    Tel: +43-1-4277-49611