Fearful Technologies. Historical and ethical perspectives on the role of fear in pro-technology discourses

The project combines a historical with an ethical perspective on the the role that fear plays in the debates about emerging technologies. Research shows that technology discourses build up over a long time. Taking an historical perspective and using the methodology of discourse analysis therefore enables us to study the shaping of longterm consequences. Although History of Emotions has become a flourishing field of research (e.g.: Plamper 2015) and particular attention has been paid to fear (e.g.: Bourke 2005; Weart 1988), this research has not yet connected with research in History of Technology. We want to bridge this gap and thereby add a crucial new perspective to the research field of socio‐cultural History of Technology.

The historical case studies will be complemented by an ethical analysis of the role that emotions (such as fear) should play in the evaluation and public acceptance of emerging technologies. Recent work has tried to establish emotions as an important factor in technology acceptance, and to defend the view that emotions do indeed have ethical significance (e.g. M. Nussbaum 2003; S. Roeser 2009). However, it is far from obvious, that emotions as such carry ethical significance, unless they can be translated into rational argumentation. Furthermore, the appeal to fear has been prominent in both environmental philosophy (e.g. Jonas’ ‘heuristics of fear’, Jonas 1985) as well as in the debate on medical technologies in transhumanism. We will draw from this literature to contrast how ‘fear’ should be used from a normative perspective, with how it was actually used in reality in the case studies.