Converging citizens? Nanotechnology and the political imaginary of public engagement in Brazil and the United Kingdom


This paper offers a comparative analysis of two public engagement exercises, conducted concurrently in the UK and Brazil. Following an account of how public engagement is situated in the political imaginary of the UK and Brazil, we set out a theoretical framework for such comparison, highlighting questions of narrative, political culture and civic epistemology. We then set out key differences in response, considering Brazilian citizen responses as prototypically more positive of (nano)technology, and as more amenable to and accepting of Enlightenment master narratives of technoscientific progress. UK citizen responses, by contrast, were more tragic, and more informed by resistant narratives of technoscientific failure. Although such distinctions are not absolute, they are nevertheless significant. We conclude by pointing to a set of analytical and normative challenges for how the science and technology studies analyst is to understand the politically contingent character of public engagement in the governance of science and technology.