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Situating the Debate
Shaping the Debate
Sharing the Debate
The development of nanotechnology
Nanotechnology, industry and the economy
Nanotechnology and internationalisation
Technology development and society
In 2003 the ESRC published our report The Social and Economic Challenges of Nanotechnology, which
investigated discussions taking place around the emergence of nanotechnology and what this might mean
for society. This report is a follow-up to that original analysis and examines how the debate has moved on
in recent years.
Our aim is to outline the general trend in the discussions on nanotechnology\u2019s future, in order to provide a
context for future discussions of issues that social science might address. We first outline how the debate
was initially framed, before presenting an overview of literature discussing the social and economic aspects of
nanotechnology that has appeared since. Our conclusions highlight the major developments in the debate
and draw out the implications of these and omissions in the discussion for the social science agenda.
The analysis is based on literature published between July 2003 and April 2006. It includes articles in
academic journals, non-governmental organisation (NGO) reports, government and government body
reports, and articles in the popular science literature, and is not intended to be exhaustive. Nanotechnology
weblogs found on the internet add a new, albeit often confusing and unstructured, dimension to the debate,
and were not in existence in 2003.
Much of the initial commentary on nanotechnology assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that nanotechnology
represented a radical discontinuity from existing science and technology, and it was largely because of this
that it began to attract so much attention.This perspective was built into the heart of Eric Drexler\u2019s original
portrayal of nanotechnology\u2019s promise, where assemblers would be able to manufacture anything by building
from the \u2018bottom-up\u2019 using a feedstock of relevant atoms (Drexler, 1986).This vision was inspired by physicist
Richard Feynman\u2019s speech (1959) about molecular assembly. One very forceful statement of this radical
utopian view was in Jamie Dinkelacker\u2019s (2002) speculation that nanotechnology offers the potential for
global material abundance and it is the loss of scarcity that has the potential for dramatic social change.>>
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