'Talking' and 'doing' gene technology politics: a policy analysis
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This thesis explores the environmental politics surrounding agricultural biotechnology innovations and diffusion. Recent developments in agricultural biotechnology are accompanied by growing social concerns that such innovations pose risks to the environment and to human health. Biosafety is a term used to discuss the possibility of such risks. Currently, the regulation of agricultural gene-technology and biosafety are contentious environmental issues for national and international policy communities. However, detailed studies of the conflicts and complexities generated by biotechnology for environmental governance are scarce. In particular, little is understood of the ways in which biotechnology issues emerge on regulatory agendas, and research gaps remain on how differing perspectives of biotechnological risks impact on policy outcomes. This thesis makes a significant contribution to these outstanding research issues. My contribution is a new analytical framework that unearths the discursive role biotechnology plays in constructing international environmental policy regimes. I develop this framework on the understanding that the use of language resources like storylines, metaphors and other rhetorical devices are critical in shaping environmental policy in general and biotechnology governance in particular. This analytical framework couples a language analysis to an investigation of the practices of institutional power. The result is a discourse analysis that provides important and useful insights into the theory and practice of biosafety policy. In other words, my thesis explores both the ‘talking’ and the ‘doing’ of policymaking and thereby provides new insights into the contested and uncertain environmental policy area of international gene-technology regulation. Specifically, I undertake a discourse analysis of international biosafety politics within the Convention on Biological Diversity. I apply my discourse analysis to a case study: the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2000. My research provides a different reading of international gene-technology politics, one that questions the constructed nature of biotechnology as a policy problem and reveals the power relations involved in producing particular policy options and outcomes on biosafety. There are a number of key research findings that emerged from the application of my discursive analytical framework to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. I find that biosafety is a highly fluid concept. It can enlarge or contract depending on the way in which language resources are mobilised by policy actors and interest groups to secure definitions and generate consensus around their preferred understandings of biosafety. Moreover, my research indicates that the more radical texts for biosafety can be recast by dominant interest groups into scripts for shallow reform agendas. Institutionalised policy practices also effect policy outcomes. My research finds that the use of Expert Panels, for example, is important in shaping international policy communities’ understanding of the policy problems posed by biotechnology risks. In the light of these findings, my thesis argues that the ability of interest groups and policy actors to win language games within institutional settings also enables them to secure their preferred policy outcomes. I import the concept of authorship as a new policy concept to discuss the ways in which such groups exercise social power to secure their understanding of biosafety, which thereby effect the ‘writing’ of the dominant accounts of what constitutes an acceptable international biosafety standard within the Cartagena Protocol. In short, my thesis is a new account of biosafety politics that fills some of the current knowledge gaps about how biotechnology is emerging onto regulatory agendas. It also demonstrates the mechanisms of power and the language struggles that determine biosafety policy outcomes within multi-lateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Australian School of Environmental Studies
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