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Consulting citizens: technologies of elicitation and the mobility of publics

[journal article]

Lezaun, Javier; Soneryd, Linda

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Abstract The new centrality of “the public” to the governance of science and technology has been accompanied by a widespread use of public consultation mechanisms designed to elicit from citizens relevant opinions on technoscientific matters. This paper explores the configuration of legitimate constituencies in two such exercises: the UK “GM Nation?” public debate on food biotechnology, and a Swedish “Transparency Forum” on the risks of mobile telephones. We consider the apparently paradoxical combination in these two examples of a tendency to produce static images of the public with a high valuation of mobility—of citizens and their opinions—as the key outcome of deliberation. We discuss the organizers' careful delineation of a distinction between “stakeholders” and the “general public,” and their aversion to any sort of “eventfulness” in public deliberations. Finally, we introduce the classical notion of the “idiot”—the individual who minds exclusively his or her own private affairs— and argue for the need to develop a new vocabulary to evaluate the politics of “listening to the public.”
Document language English
Publication Year 2007
Page/Pages p. 279-297
Journal Public Understanding of Science, 16 (2007) 3
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)