Nanotechnology research in the US agri-food sectoral system of innovation: toward sustainable development
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Nanotechnology, the scientific study of manipulating matter on an atomic scale (1 to 100 nanometers) that provides new properties in materials and devices had received considerable research attention and public funding support during the last decade in the US. This emerging technology promises to improve the competitiveness of most of the US industrial sectors. Malerba (2004) an innovation system researcher has developed the theoretical framework "Sectoral System of Innovation (SSI)" to study the process by which new technologies and knowledge are produced and transferred to industrial sectors, where actors interact based on an institutional framework to generate innovation processes. In this dissertation I studied the agriculture and food processing sector, which is a key sector of the US economy that has provided with enough food for the US population, but in an unsustainable way that has harmed the environment, natural resources and human health. The US agrifood sector is facing new challenges of increasing food demand, which need to be addressed in a more sustainable way that takes consideration on economic, environment, and social aspects. The main questions that this dissertation research focuses on studying how much attention the public nanotechnology agrifood research agenda has paid to sustainability issues during the last decade in the US and what role has played the system's actors in influencing this research agenda. The analysis of the policy process in which system's actors try to influence the research agenda is framed in the Advocacy Coalition Framework (Sabatier 1993) that complemented the Sectoral System of Innovation approach in studying the formation of advocacy groups to achieve their coalition's policy goals. Three data sources were utilized to achieve my research goals, the CNS-ASU nanotechnology publications dataset 2000-2010(Porter A, Youtie J et al. 2007; De Bellis 2009)which was used to conduct a bibliometric analysis of the agrifood nanotechnology research publications in the US, semi-structured interviews with key actors and their interaction in advocacy coalition groups, and a literature review of several official documents and public hearing with respect to the US nanotechnology system to evaluate the influence of advocacy groups in the policy process. Utilizing Vantage point data mining and Nvivo qualitative analysis software I conducted the data analysis of my research. The results show increasing research attention toward environmental research and food safety issues that can indirectly impact positively on sustainability development, as well as increasing research attention in studying environmental, health and safety issues (EHS) that can reduce potential risks. The analysis of actors' interaction to influence the policy process, two advocacy coalitions was identified. On one side, a coalition that advocate for more research funding oriented to applied research to achieve the potential that this coalition members believe this technology has to revolutionize the way food is produced giving more competitiveness to the US agrifood sector, this coalition is composed by researchers, federal agency managers and industry representatives. On the other side, a rival coalition that raise concerns respect to potential risks associated to this technology that required to be addressed by the public research agenda. This coalition mainly composed by environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other social actors claim for a regulatory framework that guarantee a nanotechnology development environmental friendly that benefit the society. The influence of these two coalitions have succeed in allocating more federal funding resources to research nanotechnology in the agrifood sector, with particular emphasis in EHS research that show the right path to a sustainable development that guarantee enough resources for the future generations.