Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 673–690

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


DOI: 10.1007/s11948-011-9313-z

Cite this article as:
van Oudheusden, M. Sci Eng Ethics (2011) 17: 673. doi:10.1007/s11948-011-9313-z


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 

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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