On social knowledge, ideology and the nuclear power debate.
Many of the issues and problems concerning the role of our frameworks
and structures of reasoning in the guidance of the process of social and
technological development are encapsulated in the debate about nuclear
energy. This thesis takes that debate as a context for analysing the
rationality of scientific knowledge of society and the role and influence
of such knowledge in debate and decision-making about appropriate forms of
social and technological development.
After an introductory review of the historical, political and economic
context of the issues and of the development of UK energy policy over the
last 25 years, the body of the thesis is structured into two parts.
In the first part, a critical examination of orthodox conceptions of
scientific objectivity is followed by an attempt to elaborate an
alternative conception of the nature of the rationality of social
scientific knowledge founded upon the notions of 'value-contingency'
and 'ideology'. This conception is developed through discussions of the
role of social problem-solving in providing a basis for the process of
knowledge development and of the role of the state in structuring the
problem-solving process and the development of social knowledge to
provide a complex 'technical' legitimatory framework. The concept of a
dominant 'technocratic ideology' is then elaborated and an attempt made
to identify and outline the major cognitive and normative components of
this ideology. In particular it is conceived of as presenting interrelated
ideological accounts of the appropriate form of knowledge development,
of the content of the social world and of the appropriate form of
knowledge utilisation, which are underpinned by 'materialistic',
'liberalist' and 'rationalist' normative traditions.The second part of the thesis analyses certain aspects of the debate about
nuclear energy in order to attempt to identify the role and influence of
the 'technocratic ideology' and its normative commitments as elaborated
in the first part, with a view to assessing the validity and implications
of such a conception. After a review of the major issues of controversy
in the debate, covering the economic, safety, environmental, social and
political implications of nuclear energy, an attempt is made to clarify
and categorise the main dimensions of the dispute in terms of the
perception and valuation of economic benefits and 'social costs'.
Arguments in support of nuclear power are then examined, themes of
'technocratic rationality' identified and the implications for the conduct
of the debate discussed.
Two particular aspects of the debate are then examined in detail to
identify the influence of normative, ideological themes. Firstly,
pro-nuclear perceptions and interpretations of the energy problem are
analysed and liberalist and materialist themes identified; in particular
tendencies towards the establishment of 'materialist ethical imperatives'
are highlighted. Secondly, aspects of the process of consideration of
alternative means to the 'solution' of the energy problem are examined
including illustrations of the value-contingent nature of the relevant
social knowledge, an analysis of the treatment of the issue of demand-side
solutions in pro-nuclear arguments, and a brief disucssion of the implications
of technocratic rationality for the evaluation of the costs and benefits
of nuclear power. Finally, conclusions are drawn on the evidence for
the influence of technocratic rationality and the normative themes
identified, on the political implications of such dominant ideological
themes and on limitations of the analysis and further research directions.