Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 723–737 | Cite as

Negotiating Plausibility: Intervening in the Future of Nanotechnology

  • Cynthia Selin


The national-level scenarios project NanoFutures focuses on the social, political, economic, and ethical implications of nanotechnology, and is initiated by the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU). The project involves novel methods for the development of plausible visions of nanotechnology-enabled futures, elucidates public preferences for various alternatives, and, using such preferences, helps refine future visions for research and outreach. In doing so, the NanoFutures project aims to address a central question: how to deliberate the social implications of an emergent technology whose outcomes are not known. The solution pursued by the NanoFutures project is twofold. First, NanoFutures limits speculation about the technology to plausible visions. This ambition introduces a host of concerns about the limits of prediction, the nature of plausibility, and how to establish plausibility. Second, it subjects these visions to democratic assessment by a range of stakeholders, thus raising methodological questions as to who are relevant stakeholders and how to activate different communities so as to engage the far future. This article makes the dilemmas posed by decisions about such methodological issues transparent and therefore articulates the role of plausibility in anticipatory governance.


Plausibility Deliberation Social implications of nanotechnology Foresight 



The author thanks Daniel Sarewitz, David Guston, Erik Fisher, Sarah Davies and the group at CNS-ASU for their help in both the practical execution of the project and the articulation of the theories and methods behind it.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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