Models of controversy : reflections on cultural theory and the GM crop debate
In the 1990s social scientists researching public perceptions of GM foods recommended the introduction of new modes of public participation to make decision-making more inclusive. This research utilises categories and concepts from cultural theory (as developed by anthropologists Mary Douglas, Michael Thompson and Steve Rayner, and political scientists Aaron Wildavsky and Richard Ellis) as tools to consider how a range of opinions, illustrated by cultural theory's ideal types, were represented within the GM crop debate. By doing so, it considers whether this approach supports the notion that greater public participation would improve inclusiveness. Furthermore, it considers how best to model the ways that individuals utilised the discourse of cultural theory's ideal types, and whether this has implications for seeking greater inclusiveness. The research is based upon 55 one-to-one interviews that were conducted with various individuals engaged in the GM crop debate in 2000, and secondary sources of data such as media coverage, electronic mailing lists and public meetings between 1996 and 2002. It was determined that the discourses of cultural theory's ideal types were best presented along a continuum, with the hierarchists in the centre and the egalitarians and individualists at either extreme. Within the wider public debate, the media and public reflected the concerns of egalitarians, while government discourse reflected the concerns of hicrarchists. By enabling the public to have a greater say in decision-making,it is asserted that decisions will favour the egalitarian outlook and will ignore the wisdom of cultural theory's other ideal types. Furthermore, since the discourse of those engaged in the debate included all but the most fatalistic comments made by members of the public, it is argued that public participation is unlikely to bring any new voices to the debate. Rather than introducing new modes of public participation,t his research recommends that the government actively consults with individuals already engaged in the GM crop debate on all issues, including those of a more political nature. The aim of such an exercise would be to identify, communicate and consider the full range of opinions available so that decisions can become more fully informed, transparent and trusted.