2, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, , France
3, CNRS, Toulouse, , France
Since the beginning of the nanotechnology ambitious policies, i.e. since the early 2000's, controversies on their risks have spread in many countries.
Facing these disputes, scientific or political institutions have classically proposed to improve communication between stakeholders according to the famous "deficit model of communication", which has not worked since we can observe that the controversies have not stopped. They also have insisted on the necessity of adopting a benefits/risks approach to show that nanotechnologies cold bring some "progress" to "people".
However, to be sustainable, this approach should be somewhat theorized.
The purpose of this presentation is to examine the reasons why the notion of “benefits from nanotechnologies” appears to be much more complex than generally supposed. In a perspective, notably in France, framed by “the imperative of precaution”, researches on nanos are confronted to the necessity (and the difficulty) of defining what a benefit is. In a classical benefits/risks approach, benefits are often considered in a very technical way: professional experts are supposed to understand what should be understood. But benefits (or risks) of nanos could be differently assessed, according to professional experts or citizens points of views.
In particular, the benefits of a (nano)technology cannot be assessed only in accordance to its technical properties beacause properties are only part of the problem. As we can learn from the thematization process of risks, any innovation must be submitted to a validity test, which supposes taking into account social norms, notably that, progressively shaped by public debates, relating to the environment and health topics.
Based on a social sciences research dealing with a medical nanotechnology and supported by the French CNRS and the Occitanie Region, we will show that a reasoned developement of nanotechnologies must rely on, and combine two criteria: technical efficacity and some kind of legitimation by civil society representations, namely associations.
This implies to combine two ways of reasoning: the "properties" and "validity" ones which are self-referential and cannot immediately match or even fit. Thus we have to examine the conditions in which an outcome could be built linking these two issues.