The Gatekeeping Paradigm and the Constructivist Alternative

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Sung, Kijin
democracy , science and technology studies , political theory , philosophy
Science and technology have become indispensable elements of virtually every public debate. While nations strive to employ the best experts to make timely decisions, discontented citizens increasingly demand better accountability and democratic legitimacy through broad and direct public consultation. Participatory decision-making, on the other hand, is often met by the worry that sound science might drown in a sea of ignorance. As science and technology studies (STS) attempts to navigate these conflicting concerns, it sometimes draws heavily, albeit often uncritically, upon contemporary political philosophy. In this dissertation, I explore links between H. M. Collins and Robert Evans’s account of the appropriate role of public participation in technical policy debates, and Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson’s liberal theory of deliberative democracy. Both views exemplify what I call the “gatekeeping paradigm”, a tendency to employ rigid constraints on admissible inputs as the primary means to direct democratic processes toward outcomes that are independently judged to be desirable. I argue that such an approach not only fails to account for the complexi-ties of public discourse in modern societies, but also reflects an impoverished conception of deliberative democracy as a black box. As an alternative to the gatekeeping paradigm, I develop and defend a social construc-tivist theory of democratic governance based on the ideas of Alan Irwin, Sheila Jasanoff, and Brian Wynne in STS; and John Dryzek in political philosophy. The constructivist view focuses less on externally imposed input-constraints and more on internal processes of self-regulation within shifting and heterogeneous discourses. Although this approach will need to be further developed and augmented with much empirical research before its efficacy can be determined, I suggest that constructivism offers a promising framework for the governance of science and technology as well as for thinking about deliberative democracy generally.
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