Nanotechnology is an emerging technology particularly vulnerable to societal unrest, which may hinder its further development. With the increasing convergence of several technological domains in the field of nanotechnology, so too could convergence of social science methods help to anticipate societal response. This paper systematically reviews the current state of convergence in societal response research by first sketching the predominant approaches to previous new technologies, followed by an analysis of current research into societal response to nanotechnology. A set of 107 papers on previous new technologies shows that rational actor models have played an important role in the study of societal response to technology, in particular in the field of information technology and the geographic region of Asia. Biotechnology and nuclear power have, in contrast, more often been investigated through risk perception and other affective determinants, particularly in Europe and the USA. A set of 42 papers on societal response to nanotechnology shows similarities to research in biotechnology, as it also builds on affective variables such as risk perception. Although there is a tendency to extend the rational models with affective variables, convergence in social science approaches to response to new technologies still has a long way to go. The challenge for researchers of societal response to technologies is to converge to some shared principles by taking up the best parts from the rational actor models dominant in information technology, whilst integrating non-rational constructs from biotechnology research. The introduction of nanotechnology gives a unique opportunity to do so.
Nanotechnology Societal response Systematic review Converging methods Rational actor models Affective determinants Science and technology governance
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This research was financially supported by Cefic-LRI (Long-range Research Initiative).
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