Promethean Elites Encounter Precautionary Publics: The Case of GM Foods

John Dryzek, Bob Goodin, Aviezer Tucker, Bernard Reber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Issues concerning technological risk have increasingly become the subject of deliberative exercises involving participation of ordinary citizens. The most popular topic for deliberation has been genetically modified (GM) foods. Despite the varied circumstances of their establishment, deliberative “minipublics” almost always produce recommendations that reflect a worldview more “precautionary” than the “Promethean” outlook more common among governing elites. There are good structural reasons for this difference. Its existence raises the question of why elites sponsor mini-publics and if policy is little affected by the results of deliberations, questions the possibility of deliberative legitimation of public policy. We make this argument by looking at mini-publics (where possible, a common consensus conference design) on GM foods in France, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and Switzerland. Deliberative legitimation becomes plausible if elites can attenuate their Promethean outlook. This is possible if ecological modernization discourse pervades their politics; Denmark provides an illustration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-288
Number of pages26
JournalScience, Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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