The anti-GMO advocacy: an institutionalist and systems-theoretic assessment

Vladislav Valentinov, Stefan Hielscher, Sebastian Everding, Ingo Pies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (SciVal)
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Purpose: Public debates on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are strongly influenced by the nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led advocacy, most of which is harshly critical of genetic engineering. This advocacy has resulted in discourse failures marked by the disregard for the scientific consensus on the risks and benefits of GMOs. This paper aims to present a theoretical inquiry into this phenomenon. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on American institutionalism and Niklas Luhmann social systems theory, the paper explains these discourse failures in terms of the problematic relationship between institutions and technology. Findings: Clarence Ayres would likely see these discourse failures as a form of “institutional resistance” to the progress of science and technology. In contrast, Marc Tool’s social value principle stresses the importance of democratic legitimation and public acceptance of new technologies, while being sensitive to the possibility of ideologically biased discourses. It is argued that the institutionalist understanding of the interplay between democracy, science and technology would benefit from a better account of Niklas Luhmann’s concept of “complexity reduction”. Social implications: The study shows that some NGOs are powerful enough to actively shape, if not manipulate, public attitudes and sentiments against GMOs. Originality/value: The case of the anti-GMO advocacy calls for a new conceptualization of how democracy, science and technology fit together.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-905
Number of pages18
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2019


  • American institutionalism
  • Complexity reduction
  • Discourse failure
  • GMO
  • NGO

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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