Competing imaginaries of science and social order in responsible (research and) innovation

As technology grows more complex, predicting either benefits or risks becomes increasingly difficult, particularly as neither tend to be equally shared. Powerful corporations can indeed influence policymakers, but useful technologies can also be blocked by a public that does not trust regulation to address their concerns, at times resulting in an intractable debate where each side imagines the other as monstrous. This chapter examines how the concept of ‘monsters’ functions in entrenched controversy, and asks whether this can be addressed through evolving frameworks for responsible (research and) innovation (RI), which seek to involve the public more closely in the process of innovation. We draw upon the work of anthropologist Martijntje Smits, whose ‘monster theory’ suggests that monsters are monstrous because they embody inseparable but directly opposing characteristics that make them both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Using the metaphors of Monsters Inc. and the pitchfork-wielding Monstrous Regiment, we will consider how these tensions contribute to the continued intractability of some technological debates through the example of genetically modified organisms. We ask how inbuilt but irreconcilable binaries complicate the socio-technical imaginary of responsible innovation, in which science and technology, guided by the continual involvement of a scientifically literate public, results in goods and services that answer society’s needs, and suggest that taming, rather than hiding the monster, may be the key to realizing RI’s goals

in Science and the politics of openness