Panel Paper: Using Institutional Risk Factors to Focus Transnational Efforts on Improving Nanotechnology Governance

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 1:45 PM
Estancia (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Cristian Morar1, Jonah Bea-Taylor2 and Alexander Smith2, (1)George Mason University, (2)Georgia Institute of Technology
As a globally emerging technology with yet-unknown challenges and implications, nanotechnology has engendered much debate in the policy sciences as to how it should be regulated. These debates have revolved around two focal points. Primarily, while some scholars and policymakers have argued that nanotechnologies deserve no special regulatory distinction from other technologies and should be subject to already existing categories, others have advocated applying additional regulatory scrutiny to nanotechnology products. Secondarily, if nanotechnologies are to be recognized and regulated distinctly from other technologies, there is dispute over what jurisdiction should make such regulation. Should states continue hold the reins when it comes to regulation, as they currently do for nanotechnology in some cases? Or should new, international regulatory bodies be created to better facilitate governance of nanotechnology?

            Our study takes new perspective through a pragmatic approach to the issue of which jurisdictions should regulate and whether new authorities are necessary, ascribing to the school of thought that sees nanotechnology as demanding a new regulatory framework. We argue that scholars and policymakers should realize that sovereign states are taking the lead, given the limited strides made on transnational nanotech governance. Transnational projects are still in the debate stage. We do not argue that this should be the state of affairs going forward, but we do propose that scholars and policymakers seeking to avert potential pitfalls in sovereign state governance begin thinking and working in ways that leverage the likely perpetuation of the status quo. We seek to encourage such pragmatic thinking by developing an analysis that we believe will help productively focus debates on supranational governance of nanotechnology.

            Our analysis ties national technology governance outcomes to key institutional characteristics of nations and suggests distinct approaches to research and policymaking for groups of nations that share key institutional characteristics. We begin with data from the French Agency for Development’s Institutional Profiles Database, along with other institutional metrics from the World Bank and other sources. We use these data to categorize nations by institutional characteristics that are relevant to technology governance. We then select an exemplar nation within each category and perform extensive research into each exemplar nation’s history of technology governance. We highlight cases that illustrate how each nation’s institutional qualities led to specific technology governance outcomes, with focus on outcomes that are necessarily relevant to debates over the proper jurisdiction for nanotech governance. We emphasize cases where sovereign technology governance has “succeeded” and where it has “failed,” and we tie these successes and failures to the institutional qualities of each nation within clearly defined caveats. We conclude by identifying institutional qualities that are expected to lead to successful nanotech governance outcomes and institutional qualities that are expected to lead to failures in nanotech governance outcomes. We suggest that scholars and policymakers focus their research and policymaking efforts upon nations whose institutional qualities create the greatest risks for undesirable nanotechnology governance outcomes.