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From Breeder Reactors to Butterflies: Risk, Culture, and Biotechnology

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Social theories of risk suggest that a combination of scientific and cultural perspectives converge to influence risk perception. This article first surveys sociological perspectives suggesting that risks from modern technological development have become predominant concerns in the social consciousness. Particular attention is given to those theses describing how social elements work to create perception of risks in relation to new technologies. The themes that emerge from this survey are then related to comtemporary debates concerning biotechnology. Specific attention is given to recent controversies regarding genetically modified crops, and parallels are drawn between debates over nuclear power and biotechnology. A procedural ethic for public discourse and decision making over the diffusion of genetically modified foods is offered. Ethical and social theories are linked with the hope that by recognizing the social dimensions of debates over new technologies a broader framework for conducting risk analysis may emerge.
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Keywords: Risk; biotechnology; ethical; legal; and social impacts; genetic technology; genetically modified crops; public participation; risk perception

Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: 2000-10-01

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