Between consultancy and advocacy: The politics of anticipating future regulation
Other conference contribution, 2022

Since the 1990s, nanotechnology has served as the “jewel in the crown” of a new research policy regime (Johnson 2004), and as the paradigmatic technology that has spawned new ideas regarding anticipatory governance (Barben 2008) and responsible innovation (Shelley-Egan and Bowman 2018). Today, man-made nanomaterials are no longer a technology of the future – they are becoming staples of everyday life. Nevertheless, professionals within the field suggest that consumer and investor appetites for such materials are stifled by uncertainties regarding health and safety, as well as regulatory uncertainties.
This paper will explore the anticipatory practices of Swedish NGO ChemSec. While portraying itself as an advocacy organisation that was founded by the likes of WWF and the Friends of the Earth, it also fashions itself as a consultancy. Thus, in the context of the above-mentioned uncertainties, it provides a tool called the SIN (“Substitute It Now”) List. This list contains a constantly revised inventory of chemicals and materials that are likely to become subject to future EU regulation. As such, they provide companies with foresight into which chemicals and materials that will become commercial liabilities in the near future.

Following previous research on how ChemSec sparked a debate among scientists about the politico-scientific merits of making such claims about the regulatory futures of carbon nanotubes (Surber 2022), the paper is based on qualitative data on how the NGO operates, how it construes its anticipatory practices, and on how other actors respond to them. Specifically, the paper focuses on how the NGO negotiates the tensions between consultancy and advocacy, and between prediction and performativity.

In so doing, the paper engages with recent historical research on how military think tanks have negotiated these tensions (Andersson 2018), as well as with recent anthropological research on how futurist consultancies are involved in similar negotiations. (Garsten and Sörbom 2021) Nevertheless, the case of ChemSec represents an alternative situation, in which the agent of anticipation – an NGO – is pitted against a nanotech industry that holds significant economic and political power, in turn trying to influence another powerful institution: The EU Commission. As such, the paper seeks to engage with the second main theme of the conference (“Politics, Justice and Ethics of Anticipation”), specifically the issue of how power is wielded and negotiated in anticipatory practices.


Andersson, J. 2018. The Future of the World: Futurology, futurists, and the struggle for the post-cold war imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barben, D., Fisher, E., Selin, C., and Guston, D. 2008. Anticipatory Governance of Nanotechnology: Foresight, Engagement, and Integration. In: EJ. Hackett, eds. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Third Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Garsten, C. and Sörbom, A. 2021. Future Fears: Anticipation and the Politics of Emotion in the Future Industry. Culture Unbound, Vol. 13, No. 3.

Johnson, A., 2004. The end of pure science: science policy from Bayh-Dole to the NNI. In: D. Baird, A. Nordmann, and J. Schummer, eds. Discovering the nanoscale. Amsterdam; Washington, DC: IOS Press.

Shelley-Egan, C. and Bowman, D.M., 2018. Nanotechnologies: the catalyst for responsible research and innovation. In: C. Shelley-Egan and D.M. Bowman, eds. Nanotechnology environmental health and safety. Elsevier.

Surber, N., Arvidsson, R., de Fine Licht, K. and Palmås, K. 2022. Implicit values in the recent carbon nanotube debate. (Under review)


Karl Palmås

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society

Nicholas Surber

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society

Anticipation 22
Online, ,

Mistra Environmental Nanosafety Phase II

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) (2013/48), 2019-04-01 -- 2023-03-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Subject Categories


Nano Technology

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