Technological Risks - Emerging Technologies and Co-existing Risk Conceptions

Berit Aadal Jensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis addresses technological risks; more specifically risks associated with emerging technologies. Emerging technologies are characterized by complexity and uncertainty, which makes natural scientific risk conceptions insufficient when approaching the field of risk as a whole. Thus, discussions on risks have broadened not only to regard risks as ‘physical real’, but to consider the significance of risk perceptions as well, thus considering risks as constructions. This has led to an acknowledgement of the co-existence of risk conceptions emphasizing that risk is not an unambiguous concept but dependent on interpretations and the context. The thesis operates with the following research question: Considering the challenges of complex-ity and uncertainty facing emerging technologies, and the co-existence of risk conceptions; what should be taken into account when approaching and dealing with technological risks? The research question is approached through a literature study where different theoretical perspectives on the field of risk are discussed. The purpose of the thesis is to examine emerg-ing technologies, technological risks and the co-existence of risk conceptions. The thesis sets out to scrutinize the preconditions of co-existing risk conceptions through a discussion on uncertainty and complexity within the field of natural science. Then the different characteris-tics of risk conceptions are discussed by juxtaposing contradictory risk approaches. Acknowl-edging complexity, uncertainty and the co-existence of risk conceptions as a precondition of emerging technologies highlight that the context in which technological risks materialize is important to address in order to obtain a more consistent view of the field. Based on these indications, the thesis turns to a discussion on how contemporary society is approaching and dealing with emerging technologies and technological risks through a critical review of the methods and approaches approved and employed in the processes of risk management. Conclusively, re-thinking of risk management is emphasized as necessary whenever emerging technologies and technological risks are the objects of analysis. Subsequently, a discussion on this re-thinking of risk management leads to a presentation of five guidelines (inclusiveness, pro-activity, contextualization, reflectivity and transparency) pointing out factors and features that should be incorporated when approaching and dealing with emerging technologies and technological risks. Although the thesis discusses the approach and managing of emerging technologies and technological risks at a very general level, these general discussions are addressed in a more specific context; the emerging field of nanotechnology. The field of nanotechnology empha-sizes that emerging technologies are being characterized by complexity and uncertainty. Furthermore, approaching the field of nanotechnology illustrates the co-existence of different risk conceptions and exemplifies how, in particular, the communication about the technology influences and shapes these different risk conceptions. As such, the field of nanotechnology is characterized by a multiplicity of expectations all contributing to the shaping and influencing of the further development of the technology.

EducationsTekSam - Technological and Socio-Economic Planning, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date1 Jan 2006
SupervisorsErling Jelsøe


  • Technology
  • Risk
  • Nanotechnology