Book Chapter

The Unravelling of Technocratic Orthodoxy?

Published on 15 July 2020

This chapter argues that the contemporary politics of technology regulation play out through a key tension – between an established narrow framing of what is at stake in technology regulation, namely the optimisation of singular pathways of technological progress based on a control-based vision of risk management, and countervailing pressures to challenge those reductionist framings and open up questions about technological vulnerability, and ultimately technological choice, to wider deliberation and collective decision-making.

Case studies of the European regulation of transgenic plant varieties and pesticides are drawn on to show how, in some political contexts, the uncertain, contested and provisional nature of much regulatory knowledge has been made explicit by actors and events, helping to force a partial ‘opening up’ of otherwise routine processes of knowledge closure, and potentially leading to a significant broadening of technology regulation.

The cases also illustrate how such processes pose a fundamental challenge to the privileged position of incumbent industrial interests within orthodox regulatory practice, and how many institutions and industry bodies have responded by trying to reassert an orthodox technocratic depiction of regulation, and in doing so avert experimentation with more ambitious, potentially transformative, forms of technology policy.

Cite this publication

van Zwanenberg, P. (2020) ‘The Unravelling of Technocratic Orthodoxy?’, in I. Scoones and A. Stirling (eds), The Politics of Uncertainty: Challenges of Transformation pp 58-72, (1st ed.), Routledge


Patrick van Zwanenberg

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van Zwanenberg, Patrick


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