Science to the people! (and experimental politics): Searching for the roots of participatory discourse in science and technology in the 1970s in France

Mathieu Quet

The current conception of political participation in governmental institutions is deeply marked by the notions of deliberation and precaution. This normative conception of participatory politics neglects, backgrounds or disqualifies other participatory practices, in so far as they are not connected to deliberation and precaution. However, participation has not always been defined in such a restricted way: the current conception of participation is a product of the 1980s and 1990s. In this paper, the meaning ascribed to the notion of participation in the 1970s in France is explored through the study of discourses produced in three fields: the Science Policy Division of the OECD, the French radical science movement, and the emerging STS academic field. As is shown, some of the bases of the current notion of participation originate in the 1970s. Nevertheless, it is argued that in these years, the notion of participation has more to do with experimentation than with deliberation and precaution. Therefore, the conception of participation in the 1970s differs greatly from the current one. Methodologically, this paper combines tools offered by the social history of science and the French school of discourse analysis.

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