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Disembedded Ideologies, Embedded Alternatives: Agricultural Biotechnology, Legitimacy, and the WTOAuthor(s): Mark J. Philbrick
Source: In: Aguirre-Bravo, C.; Pellicane, Patrick J.; Burns, Denver P.; and Draggan, Sidney, Eds. 2006. Monitoring Science and Technology Symposium: Unifying Knowledge for Sustainability in the Western Hemisphere Proceedings RMRS-P-42CD. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 439-446
Publication Series: Proceedings (P)
Station: Rocky Mountain Research Station
PDF: Download Publication (260 B)
DescriptionNotions of market embeddedness highlight the dependency of markets upon social, cultural, and political infrastructures for their operation and legitimation. In contrast, narrow interpretations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements attempt to enshrine the primacy of free trade, institutionalizing the theoretical abstractions of neoclassical economics in a regime with substantial enforcement power. Though trade restrictions are permitted in order to protect the life and health of humans, plants, and animals, advocates of “free trade” insist that such measures be based on a risk assessment approach that manifests a constrained vision of science. The effort to articulate these disembedded economic and scientific ideologies in binding international law has catalyzed and inflamed public challenges to the legitimacy of WTO rules, processes, and foundational premises.
The current transatlantic WTO dispute over regulations governing the deployment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) illuminates the crisis of legitimacy at multiple levels. Publics, especially in the EU, are increasingly wary of technologies perceived as posing possible risks to human or environmental health, and of the regulatory and scientific institutions charged with managing these risks. The paper argues that narrow conceptions of risk assessment and management are inadequate to maintain or restore public trust in situations marked by profound uncertainty and a perceived “democratic deficit.” Rather than promulgating the disembedded ideologies that it is seen as exemplifying, this case offers an opportunity for the WTO to embrace expanded and updated definitions of risk assessment and sound science. The threats that GMOs are perceived as posing to the human and natural environment have already engendered widespread protest. Failure to respond constructively would further erode the WTO’s already tenuous legitimacy, highlighting the unsustainability of paradigms that ignore the larger contexts of economic and scientific activity.
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CitationPhilbrick, Mark J. 2006. Disembedded Ideologies, Embedded Alternatives: Agricultural Biotechnology, Legitimacy, and the WTO. In: Aguirre-Bravo, C.; Pellicane, Patrick J.; Burns, Denver P.; and Draggan, Sidney, Eds. 2006. Monitoring Science and Technology Symposium: Unifying Knowledge for Sustainability in the Western Hemisphere Proceedings RMRS-P-42CD. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 439-446
Keywordsmonitoring, assessment, sustainability, Western Hemisphere, sustainable management, ecosystem resources, market embeddedness, World Trade Organization (WTO), free trade
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