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Citizen Deliberation and Politics of Risk Assessment: Technical Knowledge in Social-Cultural Context

December 12 2011


**ATTENDEES MUST PRE-REGISTER FOR THIS SEMINAR** To register - please email or call 0131 650 9113

**Please note change to usual Innogen seminar venue**


3.30-5pm, followed by a drinks reception

McEwan Hall Reception Room, Teviot Place, University of Edinburgh

Directions to the McEwan Hall Reception Room:

The McEwan Hall Reception Room is located in the Teviot Building on Teviot Place. Access to the room is through the main archway entrance on Teviot Place, doorway no. 2 is second on the left. The reception room is the only room at the top of the stairs on the right. A map with the building marked can be found at:

Organised by: This seminar is jointly hosted by the ESRC Innogen Centre and the Public Policy Network at The University of Edinburgh.


This presentation examines the tensions between ordinary citizens and experts in the 'risk society'. It shows the ways standard quantitative approaches to risk assessment fail to account for important dimensions of environmental and technology policy decision-making, often exacerbating the well known standoff between citizens' Nimby groups and professional experts. Whereas the technical community frequently portrays such conflicts as the result of the citizens' inabilities to comprehend complex empirical assessments, they are seen here to be as much or more a function of two different cognitive orientations. Through a comparison of the formal logic of empirical science and the informal ordinary language logic of practical reason, supported by a social constructivist perspective, the two modes of reason are demonstrated to be complementary rather than fundamentally conflicting. As such, the analysis shows that ordinary citizens rationally focus on important action-oriented questions that technical experts ignore or neglect. In particular, the discussion identifies the risk expert's need to situate technical information in the larger social-cultural context to which it is applied. Emphasizing both theoretical and policy implications, the task is clarified by examining political conflicts that continue to surround nuclear power and genetically modified foods. The talk concludes with suggestions for bringing citizens and experts together through more participatory modes of inquiry, as well as the import of such practices for contemporary "Third Wave" debates in the social studies of science.

This talk will be recorded and then made available to view on this website a few weeks after the event.,25097,en.t4.html