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Complex Hazards, Technological Futures and Risk Chris Groves ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) www.brass.cf.ac.uk [email protected] Complex technologies May have unknown causal impacts, e.g. nanotechnology

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Complex Hazards, Technological Futures and Risk

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Complex Hazards, Technological Futures and Risk

Chris Groves

ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS)

www.brass.cf.ac.uk

[email protected]


Complex technologies

May have unknown causal impacts, e.g. nanotechnology

May involve many different social, economic and political dimensions in their management


Historical context

  • Debates in morality of risk: utilitarian versus deontological arguments

  • Complex technological hazards change the object of ethical concern

  • As such, they contain an immanent critique (Hegel/Lukacs) of the terms of the debate (“risk thinking”)

  • Present the distribution of uncertainty as an ethical and political problem


The timeprint of technology

  • Hans Jonas (The Imperative of Responsibility, 1984)

    • Mediation of social relations by technologies implies a special responsibility

    • Specifically, a future-oriented or ex ante responsibility for the well-being of strangers

  • The nature of technological uncertainty

    • Risks emerge over time “in the wild”

    • World as laboratory1

    • Properties of technologies include their processual reach (“timeprint”2)

1 Krohn, W. and J. Weyer (1994). Society as a laboratory: the social risks of experimental research. Science and Public Policy 21(3): 173-83.

2 Adam, B. and C. Groves (2007). Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics, Leiden, Brill, pp. 115-17.


The ethics and politics of uncertainty

  • Talk of responsibility does not imply solely an abstract moral injunction

  • The “politics of uncertainty” concerns how social action produces and distributes uncertainty3

    • the forms of power/knowledge which produce interpretations of uncertainty

    • how the power to act and influence social futures is distributed

3 Marris, P. (1996). The politics of uncertainty: attachment in private and public life, London; New York, Routledge.


“Risk thinking” and morality

  • Includes both

    • broadly utilitarian and

    • broadly deontological responses

  • Both assume that socially legitimate policy treatments of uncertainty requires risk knowledge4

  • Reflect different and conflicting bodies of social practice and concepts of moral good4, 5

    • Bureaucratic management  public interest

    • Jurisprudential  private property

4 Wynne, B. (2001). Creating public alienation: expert cultures of risk and ethics on GMOs. Science as Culture 10(4): 445-81,

5 McAuslan, P. (1980), The Ideologies of Planning Law, Oxford, Pergamon Press.

6 Macintyre, A. (1981). After virtue: a study in moral theory, London: Duckworth.


Commonalities

  • Both assume that the moral significance of uncertainty depends on how determinate it is

  • Prevalence of risk as organising concept

    • Uncertainty is subjective, risk is objective5

  • Both tend to identify agency with reduction and control of uncertainty

    • Knowledge for control has normative meaning

    • Privileges autonomy over solidarity6

5 Knight, F. H. (1921). Risk, uncertainty and profit, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, p. 233.

6 Marris, P. (1996). The politics of uncertainty: attachment in private and public life, London; New York, Routledge, pp. 88-91.


Differences

  • Different foundational assumptions

  • Utilitarian

    • Mix of philosophical utilitarianism and welfare economics

    • Aggregate utility calculated through RCBA provides criterion of policy choice7

  • Deontological

    • RCBA does not ask whether some risks are inherently socially unacceptable8

    • Individual entitlement not to be harmed9

7 Sunstein, C. (2005), The Laws of Fear, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

8 e.g. Cranor, C. F. (2007). Towards a non-consequentialist approach to acceptable risks. In: Risk: philosophical perspectives, ed. T. Lewens, London, Routledge: 36-53.

9 Hansson, S. O. (2007). Risk and ethics: three approaches. Risk: philosophical perspectives. T. Lewens. London; New York, Routledge: 21-35.


Risk thinking and foresight

  • Risk thinking implies that calculative knowledge of the future is foresight

  • In both moralities, the capacity to understand regularities is their knowledge base

    • For RCBA, knowledge of sets of homogenous events

    • For deontology, the predictable connection between acts and harms against the person or property (e.g. tort)

  • Uncertainty about the consequences of action remains an in principle temporary phenomenon


Objective Uncertainty

  • Science and technology studies/philosophy of technology

  • Uncertainty as an objective feature of complex systems/social action

  • Changes the temporal scope of thinking about uncertainty

  • Changes its future orientation – displaces risk from centre stage


Uncertainty as contingency


Unforeseeable consequences

  • Unforeseeability emerges from this analysis as an objective problem for social action

  • How do we deal with this problem as a feature of the technological mediation of social relations?

  • What social forms of knowledge, action, and normative resources are relevant?


Risk and reification

  • Concepts of risk are not foundational

  • Ethical and political problem: what is obscured by “risk thinking”?

  • Implies a critique of legitimacy of risk expertise (e.g. Jasanoff, Wynne)

  • Implies also an understanding of how unforeseeability and objective uncertainty matter, i.e. what are their social meanings?


The politics and ethics of uncertainty: a research programme

  • An immanent critique of the legitimacy of risk-based governance leaves us with a crucial problem:

  • How can finitude be made central to the ethics and politics of uncertainty?

  • Have begun to outline an approach, consisting of an interlinked series of themes, centring on

    • assumptions about subjectivity and value

    • How subjects and values construct futures


Progress and prospects

  • Several publications

    • Groves, C. (2006). Technological futures and non-reciprocal responsibility. International Journal of the Humanities 4(2): 57-62

    • Adam, B. and C. Groves (2007). Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics, Leiden, Brill.

    • Groves, C. (forthcoming, 2009). Future Ethics: Risk, Care and Non-Reciprocal Responsibility.Journal of Global Ethics 5(1).

  • Key ongoing themes

    • Care, subjectivity and action

    • Critique of prevalent forms of value (instrumental versus intrinsic)

    • Moral pluralism, narrative and uncertainty


Complex Hazards, Technological Futures and Risk

Chris Groves

ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS)

www.brass.cf.ac.uk

[email protected]


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