Scientific Authority within Democratic Societies Workshop

Mon., Jun. 27, 2011, 9:00am - Tue., Jun. 28, 2011, 5:00pm

Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia


Bently Allan's blog entry HERE


This two-day interdisciplinary workshop aims to use authority and expertise as a lens for theorizing institutional innovations in scientific governance. We have invited a number of political theorists and science studies scholars from North America and Europe, as well as graduate students working in similar areas, to come together to explore the different senses in which scientific and political authority are in crisis or being contested, and critically discuss different democratic responses. The workshop aims to help us understand what it would mean to govern science in accordance with the norms of a democratic society.

Workshop Participants

Bentley Allen, Department of Political Science, Ohio State University

John Beatty, Department of Philosophy, UBC        

James Bohman, Department of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Mike Burgess, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, UBC

Thomas Dietz, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University

Lisa Disch, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan

Albert Dzur, Department of Political Science, Bowling Green State University

Robert Evans, School of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff

David Guston, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University,

Heidi Grasswick, Department of Philosophy, Middlebury College

Maarten Hajer, Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam

Anita Ho, Centre for Applied Ethics, UBC

Sheila Jasanoff, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Alfred Moore, Department of Political Science, UBC

Stephen Turner, Department of Philosophy, University of South Florida

Mark Warren, Department of Political Science, UBC

Workshop Outline
It is a commonplace that complex societies are characterised by a high dependence on science,
technology and expertise. It is also widely recognised that the last thirty years have seen the rise of
persistent political controversies that are entangled with expertise, technology and scientific knowledge. The politicization of science can be seen as one aspect of a larger shift in democracy, in which more matters are becoming political, outside the reach and authority of established political institutions. In todayʼs developed democracies, constituencies are often issue-based and temporary, problems are not geographically matched to the established political formations of state and local government, and issues reach across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Furthermore, the functional difficulties of governing highly complex societies are compounded by the increasing capacity and willingness of citizens to challenge and contest decisions and policies, and for political action to relocate beyond the formal routines and institutions of representative democracy, including legislatures, administrative agencies, and scientific bodies and establishments.

We can identify at least four distinct ways in which science, technology and expertise have become
politically problematic over the last thirty years:

• Moral politicizations of science, characterised by the sense that some advances in knowledge or
technological capacity are wrong irrespective of whatever other goods they might bring.
• Politicization in terms of risk, characterised by the desire to account for the possible negative effects of
technological interventions.
• Politicization of expertise, which involves the claim that expert power is problematic in itself.
• Corruption, where knowledge production is contested on grounds of violations of its integrity with
respect to the market and politics.

A common thread running through these different kinds of politicization is that responses to them cannot simply rely on the authority of science and expertise, since that is often in some sense what is at stake. Thus there has been a great deal of change in scientific governance, a term which encompasses both the steering and regulation of technoscientific development and the governance of science-society relations through the design of institutions and practices that mediate between science, publics and politics. Over the last two decades or so we have seen a diverse and growing ecology of potentially democratic responses, including deliberative and participatory citizen panels, mini-publics and public engagement exercises, governmental bioethics commissions, and new kinds of expert advisory institutions. These new political responses now comprise an area of study in their own right: we see a growing number of issue- and institution-specific cases studies, as well as comparative analyses across issue areas and countries. However, while there is reason to believe that this area of institutional change could add up to a significant shift in democratic practices, the attempt to identify and theorise their democratic potentials remains underdeveloped.

In this workshop, we propose to advance, deepen, and consolidate this emerging area of study, using the problematic of authority and expertise as a lens for understanding institutional innovations in the democratic governance of science. Our method is to ask workshop participants to offer short (ten page) discussion papers that address one or more of the following questions:

• How, and in what sense, have scientific and expert authority become politically problematic?
• What kinds of institutional responses or governance regimes have emerged in response?
• What are the potentials and pitfalls of different ways of democratically reconstructing or renegotiating scientific authority?

In short, how are we to theorize a democratic politics that cannot assume the authority of science and expertise, yet also cannot do without it?


"Scientific Authority within Democratic Societies" is a workshop funded by: Situating Science Canada; the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia, under the Distinguished Scholars in Residence program, awarded to Dr. Mark Warren, Professor, UBC Political Science and 2010 Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence; the UBC Centre for Applied Ethics; the UBC Department of Political Science; and the UBC Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions.