prof.dr. PM (Philip) Macnaghten

prof.dr. PM (Philip) Macnaghten

Persoonlijk hoogleraar Technologie en Internationale Ontwikkeling


Phil Macnaghten is a science and technology studies (STS) scholar, with broad interests in the governance of science and technology, responsible innovation, the sociology of the environment, deliberative methodology and narrative analysis. His early research focused on the cultural dimensions of environmental policy and their intersection with everyday practice. He developed a form of engaged scholarship, combining conceptual work with critical policy development in the domains of rural policy, sustainability policy, technology policy, forestry policy and environmental behavior change. This work led to a well-received book, Contested Natures, to a number of policy monographs, and to papers on environmental policy, environmental behavior change and focus group methodology.

More recently, Phil has worked broadly on the governance of emerging technology and societal engagement, with a particular focus on agricultural genetic modification (GM) technology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology and climate engineering technologies. He led the Nanotechnology, risk and sustainability: moving public engagement upstream project (ESRC: 20042006), the European DEEPEN (Deepening Ethical Engagement and Participation in Emerging Nanotechnologies) project (European Commission: 20062009), co-led a project aimed at developing a framework for responsible innovation for the UK research councils (EPSRC and ESRC: 20112012) and the interdisciplinary 'GMFuturos' project (with biologists, anthropologists and theologians), involving on-the-ground research teams in India, Brazil and Mexico, that sought to understand the socio-cultural impacts of GM crops from an ethnographic basis and what this means for future governance (John Templeton Foundation: 20122014) and which led to the edited collection Governing Agricultural Sustainability: Global lessons from GM crops. This work has generated widely cited publications on technology governance, public participation in science and technology, and responsible innovation, in high impact journal that include: Environment & Planning A, Environment & Planning C, Environmental Planning and Policy, Global Environmental Change, Nature, Public Understanding of ScienceResearch Policy, Science and Public Policy and Science as Culture.

Phil was Founding Director of the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR) (20062008), a Demos Associate (20042008), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (20082012), and has served as a member of EPSRCs Societal Issues Panel (20092011), a member of EPSRCs Strategic Advisory Network (20112014) and chair of the Stagegate panel of the RCUK-funded Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project (20112012).

His new book is Governing Agricultural Sustainability: Global Lessons from GM crops (Routledge: publication date July 2015). 

A complete list of Phil Macnaghten's publications can be found on:

Google Scholar Citations



The inaugural lecture of Phil Macnaghten:

Embed innovation in society at an upstream stage

If we dont find ways to shape science and innovation in tune with widely shared social values, future changes will commonly be driven by the power of incumbent interests and the delegation of the good to market forces. In his inaugural lecture as Personal Professor in Technology and International Development at Wageningen University on 12 May, prof. Philip Macnaghten explains how to innovate responsibly.   Science and technology have long been considered of as inevitably beneficial to society, as part of the Enlightenment narrative of science that imagines technology to drive inexorably forward and to bring social benefits. But as the power of science and technology to produce both benefit and harm has become clearer ranging from the agonising of physicists over their responsibilities towards the atomic bomb to the potential for technological innovation to generate unforeseen and potentially irreversible consequences responsibility in science needs to become broadened to embrace its collective and external impacts on society.  

Genetic modification

Take for example agricultural biotechnological innovation, including the genetic modification of crops and the new CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique. This needs responsible governance as it offers the potential to transform life. If we want this technique to become embedded in society, we have to anticipate its future effects, both on nature and on society, says prof. Macnaghten. Genetic modification may provide an innovative solution to the big question as to how to feed a growing population. But unless we understand why GM crops have not been universally accepted as a public good, we will fail to understand the conditions under which GM crops can help to feed the world, says prof. MacNaghten.  


To address this issue and similar issues in related subjects like nanotechnology and geoengineering, prof. Macnaghten has led the development of a framework of responsible innovation. He has wide experience in this field. Macnaghten led the European DEEPEN project (Deepening Ethical Engagement and Participation in Emerging Nanotechnologies), co-led a project aimed at developing a framework for responsible innovation for the UK research councils and coordinated a comparative project aimed at understanding the factors that shape the acceptance, use and resistance to GM crops in Brazil, Mexico and India. From this typology a framework of responsible innovation was developed.  

Collective stewardship

In his inaugural lecture The metis of responsible innovation: Helping society to get better at the conversation between today and tomorrow prof. Macnaghten explains the practice of doing responsible innovation. He defines this as taking care of the future through collective stewardship of science and innovation in the present. We need forces of cunning to invert taken for granted assumptions and to counterbalance the forces of technological determinism and the market, says Macnaghten.   

The framework is premised on the kinds of concerns that people voice when thinking about new science and technology and the kinds of questions they would like scientists to ask of themselves. Responsible innovation entails that we develop capacities to be anticipatory, inclusive, reflexive and responsive, prof. Macnaghten says. We thus need to develop a wide array of practical skills and knowledge to respond to a constantly changing environment.  


If we want to help society to get better at the conversation between today and tomorrow , prof. Macnaghten concludes, we must work at an upstream stage in the research and innovation process, to co-create responsible futures with and for society. Responsible innovation offers a useful path forward.