Social responsibility on scientific discoveries and on technical developments: knowledge policy of nanotechnology

  • Project team:

    Pfersdorf, Simon-Philipp (Dissertation)

  • Start date:


  • End date:


  • Research group:

    Knowledge society and knowledge policy

Project description

As a consequence of the results of a variety of social-science studies, the theorizers of knowledge policy (Nico Stehr, Werner Rammert, Peter Wehling; and others) come up with the diagnose that the relevance of scientific knowledge within society has changed. This societal transformation could enable interventions into the scientific production of knowledge and into its forms of application. This dissertation project pursues the scope of a critical examination of the concepts of knowledge policy. The thematic specializations imply the differing conceptions of the relations between knowledge, politics, and morals. The dissertation project aims at schematizing these drafts from a uniform perspective and at comparing them with each other. Additionally, the previous social-scientific articles on knowledge policy contain theoretical and normative concepts of unsystematic empirical studies in different fields of knowledge (see TATuP focus 3/04, esp. Bechmann et al. 2009). The discussions lack of a systematic and empirical coverage of practices in the field of knowledge policy. To work on these voids and, by doing so, to question the ideas of knowledge policy are the foci of the dissertation.

To ensure empirical observation and analytical examination, a research approach is necessary that covers the differing foci of the theoretical concepts. The reflections of Reiner Keller on knowledge policy, made in the frame of his research program on a sociology of knowledge approach to discourse analysis (SKAD), meet this requirement. Keller assumes that social discourses have always had the power to influence social related knowledge. Accordingly, knowledge policy could also be understood as a discursive regulation of production itself and of the application of scientific knowledge, when specified to the relationship of science and society. Compliant with the working hypothesis, approaches to regulation can therefore be studied by doing a discourse analysis. The social discourse on the regulation of nanotechnology in Germany is analyzed as part of the empirical study while the potential of profoundly changing the economical, technological, moral, political, and etc. foundations of society is attributed to nanoscience and nanotechnological innovations. This topic serves as a current example for the characterization of the relationship between science and society.

In the societal discourses on nanotechnology, different stakeholders introduce various proposals. Arguments, hints, and considerations are brought forward about which areas should be researched and which not, and about how the attained results should be processed. When following the approach of Keller, analyzing the discourse on the regulation of nanotechnology could reveal the stakehodlers within the scope of knowledge policy in the field of nanotechnology. In the discourse analysis, those with a speaker’s position will then be identified as players. The practices used by those players are to be understood accordingly as the instruments of knowledge policy. The data of the discourse analysis is available in the form of documents.

Assuming that the theorizers of knowledge science are right, their conceptual way of looking at a problem should then be present in the dispute issues of the discourse: monitoring and examination of knowledge (Stehr), the specialties of ignorance (Wehling) and the necessity of innovative products and academic proposals (Rammert). Based on the results of the discourse analysis, the further question of how far the reconstructed discourse could have influenced the production and the application of scientific knowledge should be pursued. SKAD refers to the concept of the involved players on such issues. This is based on the assumption that each discourse produces objectifications that have the potential to influence players outside of the discourse by subjectivization, to influence other discourses, as well as to influence practices outside of the discourse. The assumption pursued in the dissertation is rather based on the knowledge sociological argumentation of the WDA and expands it. The hypothesis presented here is that the societal discourse on regulating nanotechnology could only influence the scientific discourse and the scientific practices if it used scientific semantics. The discourse on regulation could also influence the application of scientific knowledge via the use of economical resp. political semantics. From this perspective, knowledge policy would be an exemplary phenomenon to describe the self-regulating of society.

Pfersdorf, S.-P.
Regulierung von Wissenschaft und Technologie als Wissenspolitik? Die diskursive Konstruktion von Regulierungswissen zum Umgang mit Nanotechnologie in Forschung und Anwendung - (Dissertation). Augsburg: Universität Augsburg 2016

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Reiner Keller, University of Augsburg
Advisor: Prof. Gotthard Bechmann, Lomonosov Moscow State University
Related projects: Wissenspolitik, The Knowledge NBIC
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Dipl.-Pol. Simon-Philipp Pfersdorf
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe