Acting in an Uncertain World: An essay on technical democracy by Michael Callon, Pierre Lascoumes & Yannick Barthe



The books focus on the integration of different actors for social problems. The authors argue about how decision making is made by those suppose experts and don’t include those that are affected by the decision being made. They argue that decisions that are called to be technical are truly political and because of that a better decision can be achieve if it includes all the actors. They present multiple examples and develop a framework on how to create a hybrid forum that will include everyone.

The books is a bit difficult to read, it takes more time that other books (in my opinion). It covers more philosophical context while it goes to the main subject. It’s interested and provides a clear understanding on how research is conducted both in labs and in the real world. The framework created for the integration of both, provides a clear understanding on how collaboration should be achieve and the main gains from it.

Next is a brief summary and thought of each chapter of the book

Ch1: Hybrid Forums

Serving as an introductory chapter, it focuses on the importance of having a hybrid forum and how they collaborate to bring experts and layperson to discuss a topic. The chapter argues on the importance of having different point of views to bring better understanding of a topic.

While discussing the difference between risk and uncertainty, the authors slowly brings the audience to understand that there is real line on what is technical and what is social. The line is created to separate layperson from the discussion. With a magnificent amount of examples they authors make their argument.

The chapter concludes by showing how controversies arise and how this brings different level of discussion by the citizens affected by these controversies. The authors argue that controversies enrich democracy, since they create uncertainty and this uncertainty bring new lines of research that finally enrich this forum where experts and laypeople discuss.

Ch2: Secluded Research

Knowledge is secluded because traditionally it has been developed by scientist have decide to extract themselves from the real world by secluding in a laboratory. They run from the real world to create a world that they can control. With a control environment they can try to understand better a phenomenon that occurs in the real world.

A portrayal of 3 translations is shown through to the chapter. The first involve the translation from the real world to the laboratory. Extracting all the uncertainties and creating a control environment to precisely study one phenomenon. The second translation involves the understanding of all the data created in the laboratory and extracting meaning from it. The machines and the observation from the scientist are data that have to be translated into information and then knowledge. The last translation occurs on bringing back from the laboratory to the real world. This is a most crucial aspect and where it will define the success of the knowledge created.

All this has created a culture of seclusion and those not involved in the inner circle of these laboratories are excluded from the decision making of it.

Ch3: There’s Always Someone More Specialist

Collaboration between the secluded research and the research in the wild is a most, since both of them can benefit from each other. Each translation in the secluded research can benefit from collaboration with laypeople. It can provide unique vies and problems occurring to society. The identification of problems, the development of a solution and the implementation of it can be accomplished if experts and laypeople work together.

The chapter start by portraying how laypeople can become experts on any field, given they have interest on it. They can provide unique vies to experts and show them problems that are occurring. Throughout the chapter the authors show different stories on how experts and laypeople have interacted, not always in a collaborative way. The chapter concludes with the authors arguing on the need of more collaboration between both type of research and how they can benefit from it.

Ch4: In Search of a Common World

Even when people want to express themselves they have the problem that they might not be heard. Groups can align over one voice to make themselves be noted. Even in protest one group can be completely ignore. The chapter covers different aspects of collectiveness and joint research.

The discussion created in a secluded research can have significant impact on that of normal people, as a community. The impact that it cause that community can be different than that discussed by the experts. As an example the authors discussed the burial of nuclear waste and how the vinicultures community surrounding the proposed site for nuclear waste burial protested because of concern on how their customers could associated both and maybe have their existence disappear. They were not concerned on possible leaks or any other technical aspect of the burial, but on a possible commercial impact on their wines.

Other example mentions throughout the chapter is about creating alliance to bring awareness to unknown disease. This alliance was created based on needs, the need to join force to be heard. Each disease is different from each other but no one pays attention, together they can push for research on the diseases and make scientist see them as different.

The chapter portraits a model based on the different level of collaboration that can exist between those researches that are secluded and those that are in the wild. It also shows one based on degree that emerging identities are taken into consideration. Finally it portraits a third model that contrast the constitution of the collective and the exploration of possible worlds and of identities.

Ch5: The Organization of Hybrid Forums

Creating hybrid forums is more than just allowing access to layperson to interact with researchers. A hybrid forum is more than creating surveys and/or opinion polls to explore the thoughts of laypersons. Creating measures have to be taken so that hybrid forums can success and to implement those measures a framework most exists.

The first part of the chapter focuses on the development of the framework and the components that form it. It carefully explains each component and the aspects that affect it. The final part of the chapter presents two different cases and examines their success or failure based on the created framework.

The framework first consists on how the dialog will be conducted between the different actors. The criteria to evaluate this dialog is based on intensity (degree of involvement of laypersons & degree of concern for composition of collective), openness (diversity of groups consulted, degree of independence & control of representatives of spokespersons) and quality (seriousness & continuity of voice)

Another aspect of the framework consists on the implementation procedures. This aspect is based on the criteria of equality of conditions of access to debates, transparency & traceability of debate and clarity of rules organizing debates.

Ch6: Measured Actions, or How to Decide without Making a Definitive Decision

All the different possibilities surrounded precautions are debated in the chapter. It covers how different organization handle precautions and how it can affect other. They discuss precaution from the point of view of prevention, abstention, worst case scenarios, zero risk, responsibility and measured action.

The chapter focuses on how precaution is handled by the interaction of attention-vigilance, exploration and choice of measure. The authors argue that non is a precursor of the other, they are more truly interactive, where the development of one can trigger the other one or can affect its current execution.

They relate the subject of precaution with that of hybrid forums in that there is not right way to do it and that the interaction is developed by the creation of knowledge. This knowledge will benefit the most if there is a true interaction between different actors. The precaution measures need the interaction of all actors to fully provide a measure acknowledge by everyone.

Ch7: The Democratization of Democracy

Serving as a conclusion chapter, the authors recap all the mayor points from the book. They also explain the concepts of risk and market and how they are seen in the inclusion for the elaboration of hybrid forums. They authors also argue how the expertise has been democratize.

This final chapter presents all the concepts once again and provides topics for further discussion, they also provide lessons for those that are involved in hybrid forums.

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