Confronting Nuclear Risks: Counter-Expertise as Politics Within the French Nuclear Energy Debate

in Nature and Culture

This article adduces evidence of the central role played by scientists in the 1970s and “lay persons” in the post-Chernobyl period in the production and legitimation of alternative types of knowledge and expertise on the environmental and health risks of nuclear energy in France. From a constructivist perspective, it argues that this shift in the relationship of “lay persons” to knowledge production is linked not only to the rise of mistrust vis-à-vis scientific institutions but also, and especially, to a change in the way they have reacted to “dependency” on institutions and to “state secrecy”. Counter-expertise is constructed as a politics of surveillance where alternative interpretations of risk are buttressed by a permanent critique of the epistemic assumptions of institutional expertise. The identity of “counter-expert” is socially elaborated within this process.

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