Technologies of Risk and Responsibility: Attesting to the Truth of Novel Things
In recent years a range of low-probability but high consequence threats – the asymmetric threats of global terrorism, the uncertain implications of human-induced climate change and concerns about long term public health and population trends – have come to dominate the contemporary political imagination. In response risk management doctrine has been broadly redefined in preemptive rather than precautionary terms. In place of conceptions of risk as either predictable and calculable, risk management practice has been redefined to address these quiescent, but potentially catastrophic, harms. Mirroring these broader developments, in the specific field of technological risk governance, attention has begun to shift to theunanticipated consequences of new technologies. In contrast to approaches based on the ‘precautionary principle’ these preemptive strategies act on the potential for new technologies to herald novel risks and harms in the future. In order to address these unnamed threats preemptive and anticipatory forms of risk management are increasingly being incorporated into ‘upstream’ processes technological innovation, enabling a form of ‘real time technology assessment’ rather than the largely reactive regulation of technological products.
As regulators have begun to develop anticipatory mechanisms for managing these potential risks, in the following sections of this chapter I attend to what, Diprose et al. (2008) term the ‘moral and economic underside to approach[es] to risk’ (p. 269). What I mean by this is not simply that risks, and institutionalised practices of risk management, have a ‘moral side’ or are of significant ethical import. Rather in this chapter what I am interested in detailing are the ways in which questions of ethics, morality and virtue are called upon to sustain anticipatory and preemptive political logics and rationalities. Developing Foucault’s genealogy of ethics – and particularly his analysis of the ‘moralisation of the market’ – in this paper I trace the development of these twined logics of preemption and responsibility through an analysis of strategies deigned to incentivise the ‘responsible development’ of nanomaterials. I argue that while these strategies are indicative of a wider politics of responsibility – characterized by conspicuous displays of corporate virtue – the mutually reinforcing logics of preemption and responsibility function to render the novel and hybrid materials of advanced technology both culturally readable and politically tractable.
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