Materials sovereignty: Pathways for shaping nanotechnology design
- Author(s): Kokai, Akos
- Iles, Alastair
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://www.elementascience.org/article/10.1525/elementa.410/
People in contemporary industrial societies encounter countless novel materials that did not exist previously, many of which present risks to health and environment. In this article, we build on the concept of “materials sovereignty” as the right of people to use and be surrounded by environmentally benign, non-toxic, and renewing materials in their everyday lives. As a rights-based approach, materials sovereignty may help change the politics of governing materials. We suggest that social movements that explicitly base interventions into design on materials sovereignty may be better able to gain traction in changing industrial production. We consider the case of nanotechnology as a particularly challenging field for social movement intervention. We review several pathways that have been used by social movement organizations in attempts to influence the development of nanomaterials, but which have met with limited success. We more closely examine three participatory pathways through which social movements could intervene more directly into material design: participatory technology assessment, collaboration with industry, and co-design. We identify three key elements of materials sovereignty: participatory knowledge systems, which create multi-directional flows of knowledge and agency; the embedding of citizen voices into design processes; and building accountability systems. Of the pathways we examine here, co-design appears to be the most promising from a theoretical and ethical perspective, but there remain significant institutional and organizational challenges for bringing it into practice.