An important feature of the social organization of our advanced industrial societies, which Ulrich Beck has labeled "reflexive modernization", is the demonopolization of scientific knowledge. As science is increasingly confronted with its own products, negative side- effects and risks, these subsequently become the object of scientific analysis. This means that the expansion of science is partly linked to the public critique of science. The apparently counter-modernistic scenario of a broad coalition of NGOs voicing their critique of science and technology then is not a feature of irrational fears of modernization but, on the contrary, an expression of the success of modernization (i.e. reflexive modernization). An emblematic issue in this respect has been the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and more specifically GM crops and food. In Europe, NGOs have campaigned heavily for the awareness of the possible risks of this biotechnological application.

The aim of this paper is to gain a clearer insight into how NGOs take on their role as alternative public communicators of science and technology, by focussing on the case study of GMOs. Through several in-depth interviews with spokespersons of the NGOs that have campaigned on this issue, we want to find out how they collect and communicate their scientific information. More specifically, we want to map the nature of their media strategies, their role as news sources, the direct limitations that affect them, who they claim to represent and when they consider their actions to be successful. The results of this study provide insights into the self-conceptualization of actors that have achieved a certain amount of cultural legitimation in their role as alternative communicators of science and technology, and teach us more about the democratization (of the public communication) of science and technology.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

NGOs and GMOs
A case study in alternative public communication of science and technology

Pieter Maeseele   Ghent University

An important feature of the social organization of our advanced industrial societies, which Ulrich Beck has labeled "reflexive modernization", is the demonopolization of scientific knowledge. As science is increasingly confronted with its own products, negative side- effects and risks, these subsequently become the object of scientific analysis. This means that the expansion of science is partly linked to the public critique of science. The apparently counter-modernistic scenario of a broad coalition of NGOs voicing their critique of science and technology then is not a feature of irrational fears of modernization but, on the contrary, an expression of the success of modernization (i.e. reflexive modernization). An emblematic issue in this respect has been the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and more specifically GM crops and food. In Europe, NGOs have campaigned heavily for the awareness of the possible risks of this biotechnological application.

The aim of this paper is to gain a clearer insight into how NGOs take on their role as alternative public communicators of science and technology, by focussing on the case study of GMOs. Through several in-depth interviews with spokespersons of the NGOs that have campaigned on this issue, we want to find out how they collect and communicate their scientific information. More specifically, we want to map the nature of their media strategies, their role as news sources, the direct limitations that affect them, who they claim to represent and when they consider their actions to be successful. The results of this study provide insights into the self-conceptualization of actors that have achieved a certain amount of cultural legitimation in their role as alternative communicators of science and technology, and teach us more about the democratization (of the public communication) of science and technology.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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