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Science, precaution and participation in risk governance: from tension to synergy?

Prof Andy Stirling
University of Sussex

Date: 13 May 2008
Time: 1-2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615

In current high-profile debates over the management of technological risk, many see a contradiction between science and innovation on the one hand and precaution and participation on the other. Moves towards wider public engagement are often seen alternatively as (positively) an issue of democratic principle or (negatively) a reflection of 'political correctness'. Either way, there appears to be a tension with the role of objective expertise and rigour in the governance of technology. Likewise, increasing prominence of the precautionary principle is sometimes represented as a capitulation to irrational public anxieties over new technology. Where no distinction is made between different pathways for technological innovation, there arise strong fears that precaution presents a threat to technological progress itself. Starting from a broad view of the nature of technological progress - and using examples drawn from debates over energy technologies and agricultural strategies - this presentation will explore some of the gaps and misunderstandings in current high level policy discourses over science, precaution, participation and progress. A number of practical implications will be explored both for appraisal methods and general policy making.

About the speaker
Andy Stirling works as Science Director at SPRU (science and technology policy research) at the University of Sussex and a co-director of the joint SPRU / Institute for Development Studies ESRC-funded 'STEPS' Centre (on 'Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability'). He is also part of the ESRC-funded Sussex Energy Group, With a background in natural science and the environment movement, he is a social and policy researcher scientist with wide interests in the governance of risk, sustainability and innovation. He has served on a number of statutory policy advisory bodies for the British Government and European Commission.