Juggling Roles, Experiencing Dilemmas: The Challenges of SSH Scholars in Public Engagement

NanoEthics 15 (2):169-189 (2021)
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The progressive introduction of emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, has created a true testing ground for public engagement initiatives. Widespread experimentation has taken place with public and stakeholder dialogue and inclusive approaches to research and innovation more generally. Against this backdrop, Social Science and Humanities scholars have started to manifest themselves differently. They have taken on new roles in the public engagement field, including more practical and policy-oriented ones that seek to actively open the R&I system to wider public scrutiny. With public engagement gaining prominence, there has been a call for increased reflexivity among SSH scholars about their role in this field. In this paper, we study our own roles and stakes as SSH scholars in a European-funded public engagement project on responsible nanotechnology. We introduce a general role landscape and outline five distinct roles that we—as SSH scholars—inhabited throughout the project. We discuss the synergistic potential of combining these five roles and elaborate on several tensions within the roles that we needed to navigate. We argue that balancing many roles requires explicit role awareness, reflexivity, and new competencies that have not been examined much in the public engagement literature so far. Our role landscape and exemplification of how it can be used to reflexively study one’s own practices may be a useful starting point for scholars who are seeking to better understand, assess, or communicate about their position in the public engagement field.



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