NanoŠmano Lab in Ljubljana: disruptive prototypes and experimental governance of nanotechnologies in the hackerspaces
Nanotechnologies and emerging cultural spaces for the public communication of science and technologies
New forms of co-working spaces and community labs, such as Hackerspaces and Fablabs, but also open science and citizen science initiatives, by involving new actors often described as makers, tinkerers, and hackers enable innovation and research outside the walls of academia and industry. These alternative and global innovation networks are test beds for studying new forms of public engagement and participation in emergent scientific fields, such as nanotechnology. The article shows how these grassroots and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or Do-It-With- Others (DIWO) research subcultures connect politics with design, community building with prototype testing, and how they establish an experimental approach for policy deliberation. We will consider a case study of a temporary, ad hoc and mobile NanoŠmano Lab in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which specializes in nanoscale materials and designs, to demonstrate the potential of prototypes and collective tinkering to become models for public involvement in emergent science and technology fields. This Hackerspace model of governance offers an alternative to the usual route of disruptive innovation, which starts in the R&D laboratory where it waits to be scrutinized by some government or regulatory body and be utilized by a start-up or mega corporation, and only then be safely taken up by the public. Hackerspaces operate through “disruptive prototypes” that create decentralized and nonlinear value chains and interactions between research, design and policy. Adoption of technology goes hand in hand with collective tinkering, and deliberation and assessment are happening simultaneously while prototyping. In this sense, disruptive prototypes can be said to support experimental governance. This policy closely follows some recent calls for “greater reflexiveness in the R&D process” via anticipatory policy and real-time assessment approaches, rather than more common, timeworn precautionary principles.