The debate on biotechnology in Britain : a social psychological analysis of arguments, images and public perceptions.
Biotechnology, sometimes described as the technology of the 21St century, has generated
widespread controversies and led to political and economic conflicts. The thesis explores the
nature of the public debates on biotechnology in Britain. The theoretical perspective adopted
is based primarily on the theory of social representations complemented by the theories of
argumentation and metaphor. It promotes a new perspective to the theory of social
representations by suggesting a functional equivalence between the two main processes of
representation, anchoring and objectification, and those of metaphor and argumentation
The empirical part of the thesis is centred on an analysis of the debate in three social milieux,
Environmentalists, Industrialists and Scientists, and is divided into three sections. The first
section is a case study of the media coverage about the introduction of genetically modified
soya in the market where the main lines of argumentation in the media are analysed.The
second section concentrates on the broader media coverage of biotechnology for the period
1974 to 1996 and analyses the main metaphors used by the media to describe biotechnology
and its applications. The third section analyses survey data from the British part of a
European-wide survey study on biotechnology (Eurobarometer 46.1). Here, arguments and
metaphors are revisited in relation to other important representations such as 'genetic
inheritance', 'trust' and 'future expectations'.
The thesis concludes with a recapitulation of the results of the argumentation, metaphor and
survey analysis as they merge to form the dominant social representations about
biotechnology. The results of the thesis are also discussed in terms of the conceptual
advances and methodological improvements that arise from the research, and insights they
provide for the future of the debate itself.