On media and science in late modern societies : the GM case study
Faculty of Social Sciences. Communication Sciences
Gent :Universiteit Gent, 2009
University of Antwerp
This dissertation starts by introducing two structural developments in our late modern societies with important consequences for the relation between science and the public sphere: reflexive modernization and the commercialization of science. The following review of the literature on media and science first identifies a dominant science- and media-centred approach which defines their relation primarily as a problem of communication. Not only is this approach found to be based on outdated communication models, but it also fails in a context of reflexive modernization and commercialization. Its remarkable tenacity in official circles and public debate (see the PUS-debate) is explained by its ideological usefulness. An alternative media-sociological approach is subsequently put forward which considers their relation as a social and political matter in the sense that it constitutes a primary site of struggle over the legitimacy of science in late modern societies by functioning as a site of contestation over different representations. The research questions in this approach focus on understanding how science is represented in the media and by whom, and how this relates to issues of access. The results point to a relatively effective control of its public image, which indicates that science has in fact successfully adapted to the mediatisation of society. Starting from the latter approach, the second empirical part reports on the results of a multi-method research study of press coverage of GM crops and food in five Belgian newspapers for the period between 1998 and 2007. The central research question is how this type of social conflict is represented in the news and what ideological representations are manifested in this process. In turn, four research papers analyze (i) how different biotechnological applications are represented in popular newspapers, (ii) why and how we find local NGOs performing a role as alternative science communicators, (iii) what interpretive frames are sponsored by science, industry and NGOs, (iv) how five Belgian newspapers construct an ideological preferred meaning of this debate between 1998 and 2007, and (v) how different values explain the construction and re-definition of scientific truth-claims, their sources and illations drawn from knowledge for political (in)action.