Thesis subject

Developing a narrative typology for public concerns to emerging technology

RQ1: What substantively are people concerned about when discussing emerging technologies? How are these concerns produced in and through interactive group discussion? What level of generality can be attributed to these matters of concern? To what extent are they shared across different kinds of publics and cultures? To what extent are they shared or not across different kinds of technologies?

RQ2: What narratives do people draw upon in responding to emerging technology? How do these emerge in relation to narratives currently populating public debate, including from media discourse, from civil society discourse and from those reflecting dominant institutional scientific, corporate and policy discourse? How and at what level and with what epistemological and ontological significance can these narratives be codified? Can these be considered ‘arche’ or master narratives?

Previous studies aimed at understanding public responses to emerging technologies have given limited attention to the social and cultural processes through which public concerns emerge. When probed, these have tended to be explained either in cognitive social psychological terms, typically in the form of cognitive shortcuts or heuristics or the influence of affective variables, or in social interactionist terms, as a product of the micro dynamics of social interaction.

For this Masters we contribute to an alternative approach that examines how public attitudes are formed in relation to the interplay of wider cultural narratives about science and technology. Using data from recent qualitative research with publics on a range of emerging technologies (agricultural biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, planetary climate engineering technologies), we develop a typology of cultural narratives that underpin and structure public talk, comparing nanotechnologies with other new and emerging technology.

Type of research activities

Literature review of social science literature. Analysis of focus group transcripts on a variety of emerging technologies. Synthesis across different domains and disciplinary traditions.

Type of student

Background in the social sciences. Broad interest upstream public engagement and in developing novel forms of narrative analysis.