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From public understanding of GMOs to scientists’ understanding of public opinion: a case study of the listening capacity of scientists in the UK and Italy

Amorese, Valentina (2010) From public understanding of GMOs to scientists’ understanding of public opinion: a case study of the listening capacity of scientists in the UK and Italy. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

Genetically modified organisms have been accompanied by hopes and concerns regarding the potential of this technology to reshape agricultural practices, our environment and the food we eat. The controversy surrounding GMOs raised questions regarding the present and future relationship between science and society. This thesis contributes to this debate by exploring GM scientists’ thoughts about public opinion and its influence on their work. I contend that how scientists listen to public opinion is mediated by national context, which I explore through a comparison of the United Kingdom and Italy. Within the public understanding of science, and social studies of science more generally, the listening capacity of scientists has largely been ignored. Asking if, how and under what conditions GM scientists listen to public opinion on GMOs, I address this gap in the literature. A mixed method approach is used to answer these questions. This combines descriptive statistics with a range of qualitative methods, including narrative analysis, case study and situational analysis. This methodological approach is meant to bridge qualitative and quantitative methodologies, historically polarised within PUS scholarship. This thesis is structured by my own changing understanding of the listening process. Initially, I assumed a stimulus-­‐response model of scientists’ listening, in which the public talks and scientists respond. Following my data collection and analysis, I developed a new model for listening that includes three moments: hearing public opinion, interpreting it, and responding to it. Using this model, I identify two typical patterns in GM scientists’ listening process. Both of these patterns are associated with the ‘deficit model’, which scientists used differently according to their national contexts. Drawing on Jasanoff’s (2005) concept of civic epistemology, I contend that these patterns are indicative of scientists’ civic epistemologies, which are informed by a number of different factors.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2010 Valentina Amorese
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Friese, Carrie and Bauer, Martin
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/250

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