Risk and technology assessment

Q.C. Est, van, B. Walhout, F. Brom

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    This chapter provides an overview of the changing relationship between risk, technology assessment (TA), and risk assessment (RA). It does so by comparing the development of the practice of parliamentary TA and RA, the way risk is interpreted in these practices, and the political role these practices play in dealing with risks. The basic argument is that originally RA and TA presented politically separate practices. Over the last decade, the conceptual gap between these two practices has been bridged to alarge extent. We start with describing the classical approaches to TA and RA, which developed in 1960s in the United States and where guided by the belief that scientific methods would improve decision making around the risks involved in science and technology. Classical parliamentary TA and RA present very distinct scientific and political practices, with different conceptions of risk and political roles. The classical approach to risk operated with anarrow mathematical definition of risk. Classical TA defined risk in amuch broader fashion; risk referred to abroad set of (potential) negative social effects of science and technology. RA was thought to help the government in managing risk, by depoliticizing risk management. In contrast, parliamentary TA aimed to enable apolitical debate within Congress, and thereby strengthening the position of Congress vis-à-vis the executive branch. Throughout the years, both practice and scientific literature have revealed basic shortcomings of the classical approach to TA and risk. Driven by the concept of uncertainty, the role of RA and TA and their interpretation of risk have changed. Modern risk approaches are expected to deal with both calculable and uncertain risk. TA is encouraged to look beyond effects, to also analyze current visions and values that drive science and technology. Based on the concept of uncertainty, attempts have been made to characterize risk or problem situations in order to clarify the limitations of the classical RA and TA approaches. The claim is that in case of scientific and regulatory uncertainties, and value dissent more participatory approaches to RA and TA are required, which seek to represent public controversy. The IRGC risk governance framework can be seen as exemplary for the new risk approach. From arisk governance perspective, RA and parliamentary TA have become complementary practices. The case of risk governance on nanotechnology in the Netherlands proofs this point. However, parliamentary TA’s role within risk governance presents aremarkable blind spot on the current research agenda.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHandbook of risk theory
    Subtitle of host publicationepistemology, decision theory, ethics, and social implications of risk
    EditorsS. Roeser, R. Hillerbrand, P. Sandin, M. Peterson
    Place of PublicationDordrecht
    Number of pages26
    ISBN (Electronic)978-94-007-1433-5
    ISBN (Print)978-94-007-1432-8
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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