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Risk and deliberation: the conflict over the GMOs policy in Brazil

Open Panel

Abstract

This study is about the role of risk discourse in the conflict over GMOs policy in Brazil. Risk is defined as a discursive strategy to oppose the political decision to adopt a new technology. The questions are: which types of actors take recourse to this strategy and what are its effects on policy outcomes and institutional arrangements? The empirical research identifies and measures "risk" as part of the public discourse on GM policy that takes place at the mediated public sphere. In contrast to studies that measure the quality of public discourse, my intention is to evaluate the interaction between discourse (as part of public opinion) and policy (as decision-making) in their deliberative structures. Drawing on the analytical framework from political communications and social movements research, risk discourse is treated as a strategy of contentious politics. Using the political claim-making method, newspaper articles from the biggest nation-wide daily newspaper are collected per key-word search from years 2000-2008 and submitted to content analysis. The two hypotheses are that: 1) at the beginning of the conflict, more types of actors, actions and arguments were present in the public sphere; 2) the contentiousness of the issue led to changes in the governance structure, as more powerful actors succeded in shaping technocratic institutions for decision-making, concentrating deliberation to a reduced spectrum of actors, actions and arguments considered legitimate to contest political decisions. Therefore, the hypotheses contrasts the "deliberative turn" in policy making in STS: the more deliberative the public discourse about GMOs policy was - in that the public could form their views, express their opinions and dissent in the public sphere to inform the policy making -, the less participatory the institutional arrangements created to take political decisions on the issue became, thus restricting the conception of "public" that pertains to the issue.