Contested Technologies and Design for Values: The Case of Shale Gas

Science and Engineering Ethics 22 (4):1171-1191 (2016)
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The introduction of new energy technologies may lead to public resistance and contestation. It is often argued that this phenomenon is caused by an inadequate inclusion of relevant public values in the design of technology. In this paper we examine the applicability of the value sensitive design approach. While VSD was primarily introduced for incorporating values in technological design, our focus in this paper is expanded towards the design of the institutions surrounding these technologies, as well as the design of stakeholder participation. One important methodological challenge of VSD is to identify the relevant values related to new technological developments. In this paper, we argue that the public debate can form a rich source from which to retrieve the values at stake. To demonstrate this, we have examined the arguments used in the public debate regarding the exploration and exploitation of shale gas in the Netherlands. We identified two important sets of the underlying values, namely substantive and procedural values. This paper concludes with two key findings. Firstly, contrary to what is often suggested in the literature, both proponents and opponents seem to endorse the same values. Secondly, contestation seems to arise in the precise operationalization of these values among the different stakeholders. In other words, contestation in the Dutch shale gas debate does not arise from inter-value conflict but rather from intra-value conflicts. This multi-interpretability should be incorporated in VSD processes.



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