Local Knowledge and the Social Dimensions of Risk. The Case of Animal Biopharming in New Zealand.
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis analyses the social dimensions of the risk of animal biopharming (the genetic modification of animals to produce pharmaceuticals) in New Zealand, in the context of a wider discussion of the social nature of risk. In doing so, it offers a different conception of risk and risk assessment than is currently used within the government policy of New Zealand. Current policy has focused on technical evaluations of risk, in which the technology being analysed is not assessed within the social context it will enter and risk is compartmentalised into quantifiable and standardised data. This approach both serves to legitimate "experts" as the true judge of risk, and also isolates members of the wider public to the realm of "ethical" discussion and participation. Such policy, I argue, does not lend itself to good decision-making, as risk management procedures, built on the back of risk assessment, often prove to be impractical when entering complex and ambiguous social environments. Likewise, this form of risk assessment often fails to account for risk that could be identified by those with in-depth knowledge of the environment, both social and physical, that the technology will enter. This thesis pilots aspects of an alternative approach, which aims to elicit information about the relevant environment. It demonstrates how one might identify and interview those with what is termed here as "local knowledge", and how that knowledge can make a significant contribution to risk identification and assessment and the identification of social implications. The thesis concludes not only that local knowledge can contribute practically to risk assessment, but also that the concepts of risk and expertise must be widened to include social and contextual behaviour and knowledge.