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Empiricist selves and contingent “others”: the performative function of the discourse of scientists working in conditions of controversy

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Burchell, Kevin

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Abstract The objective of this article is to report the results of 18 semi-structured interviews, conducted in the UK during the spring of 2003, with scientists working in the locally controversial area of crop genetics. Results suggest that, when talking about their own beliefs and actions, most of the scientists utilized what can be referred to as an empiricist repertoire, in which beliefs and actions are seen to derive from the natural world, an objective and rigorous method, and an ethical framework. By contrast, when talking about the beliefs and actions of four key “others,” most of the scientists relied upon a contrasting contingent repertoire, in which beliefs and actions are seen to derive from personal shortcomings, inclinations and self interest, and to be in contradiction of an ethical framework. It is suggested that the extent to which the discourse of these crop geneticists followed this pattern may be related to the conditions of controversy within which they were working at the time of the interviews. The small number of cases that contradict this pattern are also examined. The implications of this for relationships between science and the public are briefly discussed.
Document language English
Publication Year 2007
Page/Pages p. 145-162
Journal Public Understanding of Science, 16 (2007) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)