Techno-visionary Sciences: Challenges to Policy Advice

Armin Grunwald


Scientific policy advice on issues of science and technology looks back to a tradition of more than 50 years. Technology assessment (TA) has been developed since the 1960s, frequently in relation to or on behalf of political institutions such as parliaments and governments. In general, science and technology studies (STS) appear to be (or, at least, to have been until quite recently) more academic and more distant to institutionalised political decision processes in a strict sense (the ‘political system’).

Seen against this background, one main thesis of this paper is that the rise of new techno-visionary sciences, such as nanotechnology, significantly contributed to a process of convergence between STS and TA. The reason for this can be located in the particular relevance and virulence of the ‘Collingridge dilemma’ for these sciences. Due to the high uncertainties with respect to the knowledge about impacts of the related technologies, TA has to look for other than empirical or logical arguments to support ‘upstream’ technology impact analyses – and can find them partially in theory-based work in STS, for example in the context of the debate on the co-evolution of technology and society. STS practitioners, in turn, see options and the need for ‘going public’ in a new way (and at an early stage of development), now increasingly including the institutionalised political domain. Equipped with their refined analytic, interpretative and ethnographic capacities, STS are moving further into often unfamiliar policy terrain which has its own logic and distinct set of rules.

The paper analyses and reflects on ongoing shifts in the ‘landscape’ of scientific policy advice, focusing on the rise of techno-visionary sciences and converging technologies. Another aim of the paper is to orientate STS and TA toward mutual learning processes and intensified cooperation, based on existing experience in both fields.


vision assessment; policy advice; technology assessment

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