Expert communication to the public: Modernist ideals vs. postmodernist attitudes

    Activity: Talks and presentationsTalks and presentations in private or public companies



    Research indicates that, in general, Europeans are sceptical towards biotechnology. With the Danish population at large, this scepticism follows a ‘Frankensteinian' argument, involving notions such as uncertainty, danger and risk (Hviid Nielsen et al. 2002). Previous studies suggest that in dealing with biotechnology the Danish press uses this argument as a framework for its metaphorical and discursive constructions either in supporting or rejecting the technology (Holmgreen (2008); Holmgreen & Vestergaard (submitted)).

    Despite the identification of risk as one of the major sources of scepticism, and hence the possibility for the biotech community of discursively and metaphorically addressing this point, the community continues nonetheless to experience a lack of popular support (Interviews conducted with Danish biotech experts in January 2005).

    The paper approaches this problem by investigating whether the lack derives from the community's own inability to metaphorically construct a culturally and socially acceptable image of the technology and whether this inability is rooted in underlying paradigmatic differences between the scientific community and the public (Cook et al. 2004; Wynne 2001).

    Theoretically, the analysis is based upon Conceptual Metaphor Theory (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003), including the concept of ‘motivation', propounded by among others Radden and Panther (2004), to establish the conceptual as well as the culturally and socially contingent aspects of metaphor use. Furthermore, the focus on pairs of values has proven valuable for analysing whether the use of metaphors reflects commonly accepted value pairs in Danish society that would potentially make a readership accept the arguments presented (Holmgreen & Vestergaard (submitted)).

    The data for the analysis are a number of interviews given by prominent experts in the biotech field and published in 2002 by Biotekcenter, a co-operative information unit set up by among others Aventis and Monsanto, two major players in the biotech industry (Christiansen 2002).



    Christiansen, J. L. (ed.) (2002), 11 Attitudes to the Crops of the Future. Biotekcenter.

    Cook, G. et al. (2004), "The scientists think and the public feels": expert perceptions of the discourse of GM food. Discourse and Society 15: 433-449.

    Holmgreen, L. (2008) Biotech as ‘biothreat'? - metaphorical constructions in discourse. Discourse and Society 19.

    Holmgreen, L. & Vestergaard, T. (ms), Evaluation and audience acceptance in biotech news            texts. Submitted to The Journal of International Applied Linguistics.

    Hviid Nielsen, T. et al. (2002), Traditional blue and modern green resistance. In Bauer, M. W.           et al. (eds), Biotechnology - The Making of a Global Controversy, 179-202.      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980/2003), Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago University             Press.

    Radden, G. and Panther, K. (eds) (2004), Studies in Linguistic Motivation. Berlin and NY:    Mouton de Gruyter.

    Wynne, B. (2001), Creating public alienation: expert cultures of risk and ethics on GMOs.   Science as Culture 10: 445-481.

    Period30 Jan 2008
    Event titlePlant Biotech Denmark Annual Meeting
    Event typeConference
    LocationKøbenhavn, DenmarkShow on map