, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 137–150 | Cite as

Communitarian and Subsidiarity Perspectives on Responsible Innovation at a Global Level

Original Paper


All stakeholders agree publicly that innovation and governance of emerging technologies should be done responsibly. However, the international debate on who should do what to contribute to this lofty goal is nowhere near a solution. The starting point of this paper is the issue of how and for which reason to engage stakeholders in addition to governments in the international governance of nanotechnology. This article examines the mainly North-American communitarian criticism of political liberalism and the related (mainly European) concept of subsidiarity in order to shed new light on this discussion. The central research question is: Can a communitarian-subsidiarity perspective on the roles of governments, companies and civil society actors that hold a stake in emerging technologies clarify the grounds on which each actor should be expected to contribute to responsible research and innovation at the international level? After selecting some relevant aspects of a communitarian-subsidiarity model for a dialogue society, an analytical framework is proposed. This framework is then applied to the recent international dialogue on responsible governance of nanotechnology. The outcomes of the analysis are compared to the OECD planning guide on public engagement and outreach in nanotechnology, and indicators for monitoring progress in responsible global innovation are suggested. The main contribution of the selected communitarian-subsidiarity perspective is that it offers philosophical grounds for a return of citizens to the driving seat in cooperative international responsible innovation.


Responsible innovation Communitarianism Subsidiarity Global governance Emerging technologies Nanotechnology 



The analysis of literature and case study in this article has been done without external funding. The original case study on responsible development in nanotechnology has been reported elsewhere [38, 39] and benefited from partial funding by several grants including the EU ObservatoryNano project, grant agreement 218528. Comments by Bert Gordijn, David Guston, four anonymous reviewers and scientific committee members, speakers and participants in the EthicSchool summerschool on Ethics of Emerging Technologies, 9–13 September 2013 on central ideas in the present article are gratefully acknowledged. The contents of this article are the responsibility of the author, and any opinions expressed can under no circumstances be attributed to the European Commission.

Conflict of interest

I am not aware of any conflict of interest related to the present article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Malsch TechnoValuationUtrechtThe Netherlands

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