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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Special Issue on Public engagement in contested political contexts

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Special Issue on Public engagement in contested political contexts

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 21 May 2021

As regular readers will know, 2021 brought great changes to the Journal of Responsible Innovation as it took on Open Access status [2].

Alongside a celebratory 'bumper issue' (reviewed here [3]), two supplement Special Issues were released. In this post we offer an overview of the first with a review of the second to follow.

As Shannon N. Conley and Emily York explain in their introduction to the Special Issue Public engagement in contested political contexts: reflections on the role of recursive reflexivity in responsible innovation [4], this Special Issue 'interrogates the political cultures and practices that render engagements among publics, emerging technologies, and institutions both deeply problematic yet increasingly necessary', with a particular focus on asymmetries. The authors also stress that the issue is intended to promote what they describe as recursively reflexive RI, the RI lens applied to RI itself and not only to science, technology and innovation.

In Narrative as a resource for inclusive governance: a UK-Brazil comparison of public responses to nanotechnology [5] (the first of three research articles), Phil Macnaghten and Julia S. Guivant examine the role of narrative as a resource for developing inclusive governance frameworks by looking at two concurrently conducted public deliberation experiments in the UK and Brazil.

The authors open a discussion on the role of narratives within governance and the construction of inclusive frameworks with a description of three challenges posed to the accepted 20th century model of risk governance: The narrative of technology as a liberating and empowering force was not uncontested; many of the most profound technologically-induced risks that are faced today were not identified in advance by formal processes of risk assessment; and that the assessment of risks is rarely based on science or technical evaluation alone, but is contingent on wider social judgement and values.

This leads Macnaghten and Guivant into a comparison of UK and Brazilian science, technology and innovation governance systems and description of the methodology and findings of their comparative public engagement research. They find some startling differences that lead them into proposing what we at the Bassetti Foundation might think of as a 'glocal' approach.

The issue continues with (Nation) building civic epistemologies around nuclear energy in India [6], in which Monamie Bhadra Haines argues that Indian nuclear politics is better understood through the lens of politico-epistemological upheaval instead of a shared civic epistemology, understood as a byproduct of hegemonic relations between the state and civil society.

After explaining and then discussing the construction of and some of the problems and assumptions involved in the civic epistemology concept, the author moves on to subaltern challenges to nation-building civic epistemologies with an extremely thought-provoking description of Indian politics and governance. She then moves on to the related discussion of epistemological crossfire in India's nuclear energy landscape, the lack of importance given to local cultural knowledge, the construction of the arguments used and the one-sided 'shows of public participation (reflecting many of the typifications made in the calls for RI), before offering two eye-opening case studies and a short conclusion.

The third research article is Science, technology, and life politics beyond the market [7] from Charles Thorpe.

Thorpe states that studies on public participation in decision-making regarding science and technology and responsible innovation have not adequately addressed the obstacles posed by the economic relations of the market, arguing the need to look towards socialist democratic planning as the future for participatory and responsible innovation.

The author describes the affinity that the RI movement finds in 'the third way', a well-known political philosophy in Europe and the USA, describing how its political underpinnings tie universities and the STS community into relationships that are inherently undemocratic. He offers an intricate historical-political description of how this situation has developed before concluding:The question of democratic deliberation in the governance of science and technology indicates the development of new modes of social control of the productive forces, operating beyond the nation-state. Global democratic planning, the self-regulation of the human interchange with nature at a global level, points beyond the institutional structures of capitalism toward a new global civilization.

Interested readers may like the related publication Responsibility Beyond Growth. A Case For Responsible Stagnation (reviewed here [8]).

The Special Issue then moves on to its Perspectives section, the first, Fitting the description: historical and sociotechnical elements of facial recognition and anti-black surveillance [9] offered by Damien Patrick Williams.

The author takes the position that some technologies are inherently unjust as their development is part of a lineage of technologies which are embedded with the prejudicial assumptions born from the unjust societies in which they are built.

Williams uses a historical reconstruction of photographic techniques to demonstrate how choices made during their development display racial bias before moving on to look at how these issues have bled through into surveillance and recognition systems today. A chilling read!

In Forgotten publics: considering disabled perspectives in responsible research and innovation [10], Rebecca Monteleone argues that recognizing disability as a crucial epistemic resource can aid in the production of more transparent, inclusive, and meaningful research and innovation.

This articles asks a similar question to the Williams article: is it possible for healthcare systems to innovate responsibly while built on a foundation that assumes disability as undesirable pathology?, the author proposing the application of a disability informed perspective to RI in participatory terms.

Matthias Wienroth follows with Value beyond scientific validity: let's RULE (Reliability, Utility, LEgitimacy) [11] in which he proposes a practice-based approach to testing values in new technologies and their respective emerging practice and governance arrangements around Reliability, Utility and LEgitimacy (RULE).

Once again this author refers to policing techniques and the framing of debate around technoscientific adoption within law enforcement, before describing the three aspects of the RULE approach in action (reliability, utility and legitimacy). A very interesting work in progress.

In Predictive rebound & technologies of engagement: science, technology, and communities in wildfire management [12], Eric B. Kennedy discusses technologies of anticipation, proposing the concept of predictive rebound to highlight two challenges: (1) that increasingly accurate predictive models do not always translate into the initially intended real-world gains, but rather can end up being applied to alternative ends and (2) that perceived accuracy of predictive models can be misunderstood as reducing the need for explicit debate about values within decision-making.

The author uses a case study of wildfire management, and after a clear explanation of what predictive rebound actually is and the problem that increased accuracy in predictive technologies can sometimes fail to return the initially promised gains making a call for the necessary deliberation that the development and adoption of such technology requires.

Jathan Sadowski offers Rediscovering a risky ideology: technocracy and its effects on technology governance [13], a perspective that argues the need for research and practice directed not only towards citizen, but at understanding and confronting the politics and power of technocrats and the systems they adopt and refer to.

This paper offers a lot of food for thought here at the Foundation as it very much represents our interests in the importance of institutional support and change in any move towards operating an RI approach.

The final Perspective piece in this Special Issue is STS Postures: responsible innovation and research in undergraduate STEM education [14], from David Tomblin and Nicole Mogul.

The authors argue that combining STS Postures with the responsible innovation and research framework (RRI) could help educators effectively translate Science and Technology Studies (STS) for undergraduate STEM students, proposing adoption of their STS Thinker Skills and STS Postures teaching method.

After a discussion of RRI and STS postures, the authors move on to the STS thinker skills which lead the students into addressing the four well known dimensions of RI, before concluding with a description of their aims and goals and some interesting proposals for action.

Once more the JRI offers an interesting line up of well written and thought provoking texts. The Bassetti Foundation would like to congratulate all of the authors and the Special Issue editors and recommend the articles to our readers.


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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2020/07/journal_of_responsible_innovat_17.html
  3. 3] https://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/focus/2021/02/review_journal_of_responsible.html
  4. 4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1848335
  5. 5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1842643
  6. 6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1771145
  7. 7] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1816363
  8. 8] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1893121
  9. 9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1831365
  10. 10] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1831366
  11. 11] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1835152
  12. 12] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1844954
  13. 13] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1816345
  14. 14] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2020.1839230
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Special Issue on Public engagement in contested political contexts
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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