Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 673–690 | Cite as

Questioning ‘Participation’: A Critical Appraisal of its Conceptualization in a Flemish Participatory Technology Assessment

  • Michiel van OudheusdenEmail author


This article draws attention to struggles inherent in discourse about the meaning of participation in a Flemish participatory technology assessment (pTA) on nanotechnologies. It explores how, at the project’s outset, key actors (e.g., nanotechnologists and pTA researchers) frame elements of the process like ‘the public’ and draw on interpretive repertoires to fit their perspective. The examples call into question normative commitments to cooperation, consensus building, and common action that conventionally guide pTA approaches. It is argued that pTA itself must reflect an awareness of competing interests and perspectives inherent in the discourse associated with the meaning of ‘participation’ if it is to incite action beyond vested interests and ensure genuine mutual learning.


Discourse Nanotechnology Participatory technology assessment Power 



I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers, Stefan Aerts, Lieve Goorden, Brice Laurent, Ilse Loots, and Michaela Spencer for helpful comments on previous versions of this article. Above all I am grateful to Johan Evers, with whom I explored and developed many of the ideas contained in this article. The study was made possible through the Fund for Scientific Research—Flanders (FWO).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Vlaanderen, Department of Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpenBelgium

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