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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

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
Complex technologies

May have unknown causal impacts, e.g. nanotechnology

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

historical context
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
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
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
“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
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
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 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
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
unforeseeable consequences
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
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
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
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 risk16

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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