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À la recherche d’une « démocratie technique ». Enseignements de la conférence citoyenne sur les OGM en France

Joly, P-B., Marris, C. & Hermitte, M-A. (2003). À la recherche d’une « démocratie technique ». Enseignements de la conférence citoyenne sur les OGM en France. Nature Sciences Societes, 11(1), pp. 3-15. doi: 10.1016/S1240-1307(03)00003-7


This article presents an analysis of the consensus conference on GMO’s held in France in 1998. Centred on the experience of the citizen panel, it also discusses criticisms expressed by various actors in France about this conference, most of which related to the lack of representativeness of a panel of citizens with no prior knowledge or interest in the issue at stake. Our analysis of the deliberations and report of the panel reveals the reflexive endeavour undertaken by these citizens with respect to their own role and representativeness. We show how the members of the panel addressed, from the start, the issue of their role in relation to that of the experts and in the decision-making process; how they constructed their collective identity on the basis of their own definition of their role and how this in turn determined how they interacted with the experts and stakeholders invited to the public conference and the nature of their recommendations. We argue that the work conducted by the citizen panel inaugurates a new form of active representation, which is of a very different nature to representation by elected politicians and to “figurative” representation by professional institutions, trade unions and other non-governmental organisations. This novel form of representation enables the exploration of scientific and technical aspects together with social aspects, from the perspective of “ordinary citizens”. It is indeed the “ordinary” character of the panel members that is relevant, because the essence of the operation is to inform decision-makers about the views of those who do not speak out and who do not feel represented by political parties, trade unions, or environmental and consumer NGOs. The article demonstrates how these cognitive and political processes were intrinsically intermeshed in the activities of the panel. The extent and nature of this socio-technical exploration was, however, constrained by some aspects of the consensus conference method itself and we discuss ways in which these could be overcome. On the basis of this analysis, the article addresses two more general issues: the relationship between this type of participatory technology assessment initiative and NGO mobilisations and the link with decision-making processes.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: The original publication is available at
Publisher Keywords: Consensus conference; GMOs; Representation; Deliberation; Policy making
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
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