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Exploring injustice and the common good in local-scale biosafety deliberations in Costa Rica

Sergio Guillen, Australian National University

Tue 5 August 2014

11:00am - 12:00pm

Fishbowl, Building 24, University of Canberra


I present the rationale and methodology for a study of two elements involved in local-level public deliberation about genetically modified crops in Costa Rica.   The first of these elements concerns injustice frames, an aspect of issue framing that entails a sense of outrage towards particular institutions or individuals on whom significant blame is laid for the grievances that spark collective action (Gamson, 1992; Johnston & Noakes, 2005).  The second element relates to common-good orientation, which constitutes a central normative ideal of deliberative democracy, through which participants search for “a point of commonality to serve as the foundation for legitimate norms” (Chambers, 1996, p. 103).  Both of these aspects continue to fuel important debates in the theoretical and empirical study of deliberative democracy.

With regard to injustice frames, these are regarded, from a social movement perspective, as essential for driving collective action, which in turn nurtures discursive contestation in the public sphere, something highly valued by critical deliberative democrats (Dryzek, 2000; Rostboll, 2008).  However, from a perspective of ideal deliberation, frames are related to aspects of symbolic manipulation that can distort the public will (Niemeyer, 2011) and hinder the type of reciprocal and reflexive exchange desirable in deliberation, by inducing a dismissal or committed opposition to the perspectives of others (Calvert & Warren, forthcoming).  As for common good orientation, there has been a strong debate regarding its implications for the role and admissibility of self-interest in deliberation (Mansbridge, et al., 2010; Steiner, 2012).  Moreover, a tension exists between both elements, since a greater prevalence of injustice frames can generate greater reluctance to explore a shared understanding of the public good with those blamed for the injustice.

I argue that an interpretative approach can help understand how a widespread grassroots movement opposing the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Costa Rica has incorporated injustice frames into its approach to claim spaces in local environmental governance, and how the use of these frames has affected the orientation towards generalizable interests in public deliberations in community organizing settings and in municipal hearings.  I present the strengths and limitations of the approach and connect it to a broader research project to explore the effects on deliberative quality of grassroots environmental collective action in Costa Rica.

About the speaker

Sergio Guillen is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, and a visiting Ph.D. student at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra.  Between 2008 and 2013 he worked as Senior Specialist in Social Dialogue at the Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM) and as trans-boundary water governance consultant for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Costa Rica and Central America.  He holds a B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering from Carleton University (Canada), a Graduate Certificate in Natural Resources and Organization Management from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (United States), and an M.A. in Environmental Security and Peace from the UN-affiliated University for Peace (Costa Rica)

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