Nanotechnology: A Problem Definition

In mining for data on the topic of Nanotechnology, perhaps the most common motif was the question of, what is it?  Surely by definition it makes sense that it is simply, the technological development of very small things.  Yet, that is about all that anyone seems to be able to agree upon.  This is not only due to the little that is known about this technology, a development very far off in the future, but also because it entails uses for almost everything.  This broadness in definition is cause for debate, and explanation as Lindquist, Mosher-Howe, and Liu, explain in their 2010 article entitled “Nanotechnology. . .What Is It Good For (Absolutely Everything).

They bring to the table the concept of a problem definition, in other words something so broad and esoteric that it is difficult to interpret, create policy, or even form opinions.  The examples they use are words like “justice,” “freedom,” and “liberty.”  In relation to Nanotechnology they explain: “Nanotechnology, as it represents an often ill or ambiguously defined aggregate of technologies, has been strategically directed toward the multiple problems to which entrepreneurs have linked the ‘nanotechnology solution'” (3).  Thus nanotechnology presents a legitimate social issue by definition alone, for its size and scope cannot be summed up in one word.

The authors’ research goes on to point out that nanotechnology is being defined across the board and frequently with different spins and uses.  The group researched a number of articles published over the last few decades and created a chart illustrating the issue of nanotechnology’s panacea-like attributes:

Figure 1: Number of Articles by Sector Across Time. Taken from pg. 266 (12) of cited article

 

As seen in figure 1, different industries all have a great interest in the future of nanotechnology, all with competing goals, visions, and ends. So what can we conclude from this article?  The group urges the importance of a careful look at all angles of this exciting new technology.  Their idea of nanotechnology being a problem definition speaks to future policy processes that could shape this future innovation for better or worse.  Personally I think it vital to look at all of these definitions and from there, take a further step back, looking at the people it will affect, the industries it will shut down or revitalize, the environmental affect it will have, and the many social problems it may cause.

 

  1. Eric Lindquist, Katrina N. Mosher-Howe, and Xinsheng Liu, “Nanotechnology . . . What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Everything): A Problem Definition Approach,” Review of Policy Research 27, no. 3 (May 2010): 255-271.
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