Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

3.2. Sektion sozialverträgliche Wissenschaftskulturen
HerausgeberIn | Editors | Éditeurs: Michael Strähle (Wissenschaftsladen Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Internationally mobile consensus: The Austrian experience with the Danish model

Franz Seifert (Wien)(1)



The relationship between technology-policy and the public is marked by two countervailing developments. On the one hand, political economies are locked into a global race for technological innovation. In the context of "trans-national high-tech capitalism,"(2) a national economy's capacity to develop and exploit high-tech innovations has grown to be considered crucial for creating and preserving national wealth. Political systems came to prioritize this capacity and, in order to foster it, to instigate deep reaching institutional restructurings.(3) On the other hand, social movements, from time to time, succeed in hampering, even blocking modernisation projects. After the anti-nuclear movement in the seventies, many more episodes of movement driven "contentious politics"(4) unfolded, with issues ranging from toxic waste disposal to genetically modified food. While social movements may choose a broad range of approaches to influence decision-making, their most potent political tool is the rallying of mass support. Making use of rare situational opportunities,(5) drawing on moral authority and questioning the legitimacy of government and corporate interest, they occasionally force political systems to revise, even give up, particular modernization projects.

As a result, new ways are sought to cope with these "problematic publics."(6) Besides monitoring public attitudes by means of opinion surveys, political systems increasingly draw on a wide repertoire of "participatory" and "deliberative" methods for "communicating" and "interacting" with the public in delicate policy fields. The discourse surrounding these practices regularly depicts technological change as generator of ethical ambiguity, whose responsible use requires more informed, more legitimate political approaches. The participatory and deliberative methods which are employed for this purpose take on a multitude of institutional shapes, ranging from "round tables" with experts and stakeholders to "citizen polls" that entail more or less representative samples of "the people."(7)

Accordingly, the factual achievements and normative evaluation of this experimenting with public involvement in the policy process vary. They might merely function as sources of scientific expertise, allowing regulators and policy makers to keep up with rapid technological change. In such cases they might go along with functional-elitist conceptions of the state.

Commonly, however, participation and deliberation are associated with normatively demanding "models of democracy,"(8) adding to and going beyond the constitutionally prescribed procedures of representative democracy, sceptical about legalistic constraints and antithetical to technocratic state conceptions.(9) Deliberation implies Habermasian notions of a "coercive free discourse", which is antithetical to a real world of closed bureaucracies and vested interests. Participation hints at - similarly idealistic - egalitarian and emphatic ideas of democracy, implies inclusion and the enlargement of the circle of participants.

Furthermore, since the "technological" issues at stake are of complex nature and require particular cognitive effort to be understood and reasonably discussed, a democratic rationalization of the various emerging participatory and deliberative practices needs to reflect on the normative status of the social distribution of knowledge.

Again, we observe a tension between functional-elitist and egalitarian notions of knowledge. Conventional advisory committees, new approaches like "Participatory Technology Assessments" (10) (in the following: TA) "Technology Delphis,"(11) but also currently widespread information campaigns promoting the "Public Understanding of Science"(12) coincide with expertocratic approaches and affirm the distinctness of the cognitive haves and have-nots. Conversely, participatory exercises like "citizen juries" or "consensus conferences" concede to the general public the intellectual capacity to arrive at wise decisions in technological matters.

The current debate on the political shaping of technological change gains its impetus from the tension between these normative poles. Do experiments with deliberation and participation in technology policy actually signal a move from "the powers that be" to some version of "strong democracy?"(13) If broader publics are involved, how real and how consequential is this involvement? Do such initiatives actually engage considerable parts of the public? Do they ignite broad "public debates" and contribute to the formation of an informed public opinion, which might ultimately leave its mark on regulation and policy formation? Or do they pass without substantial consequences and mainly help authorities to garner acceptance and present themselves as responsibly acting government?

The following article adds to this debate by highlighting a deliberative exercise - a "consensus conference Danish-style" - recently carried out in Austria. Its intent is not to give an evaluation of this exercise based on standardised criteria.(14) Instead it will consider it within the context of recent political developments at national and international scale in order to raise questions about the normative significance of experimenting with participatory and deliberative practices.

Before going into the details of the Austrian experience an outline of the Danish consensus conference model as well as its international career in recent years will be given. It follows a draft of Austria's political culture, as it pertains to participation and deliberation, and recent trends in the transformation of this culture.


Consensus conference Danish-style: an international career

The consensus conference "Danish-style" ranges among deliberative variants committed to an emphatic model of democracy. Beyond making available more direct channels of influence from "the people" to political decision-making than is provided by the institutional set of representative democracy, the Danish consensus conference particularly aims at reversing the hierarchy between lay people and experts.

In a consensus conference about a dozen randomly selected "ordinary citizens" engage in an informed debate on a complex, mostly technological issue with the goal of attaining a common position, which, in turn, might serve as a recommendation for political decision-makers. In preparation, the lay panel is provided with abundant information and enabled to question experts of their own choice. The participants are supposed to be in full control of the debate and to arrive at conclusions as autonomously as possible. Their final suggestions are publicly handed over to the authorities, whose constitutional prerogatives, however, are not affected. The conference's recommendations remain optional, not binding input to the political decision-making process.

The term consensus conference has its origin in US American TA and is still widely used for certain types of expert summits on medical issues. The understanding of consensus conference as a citizen-based deliberative exercise, however, had emerged in the Danish political culture, notorious for its eager experimentation with inclusionary, participatory practices. There, it was the influential Danish or Board of Technology,(15) which first employed the instrument in the mid-1980s.

The Board, which had been established in order to assess the social impacts of new technologies and advise the Danish Parliament and Government, pursued an outspokenly democratic approach. It stressed the egalitarian elements of consensus conferences, which it designed to foster public debate, break expert dominance and enhance the status of the "ordinary citizen" respectively.

The first consensus conference treated the subject of "biotechnology in industry and agriculture". It was held in 1987 when Denmark went through a broader public debate on biotechnology.(16) To this day, 21 conferences have followed in Denmark. (Table 1) They treated such diverse issues as human infertility or noise pollution. The most recent one took place in summer 2002 and discussed genetic testing.

The Danish consensus model not only proved successful locally. In the 1990s, several institutions in a number of countries of in industrialized world experimented with the Danish model. (Table 2) Typically, national TA-agencies embraced the deliberative exercise. The "Rathenau Instituut" in the Netherlands, for example, the "Zentrum für Technologiefolgen-Abschätzung" in Switzerland or the Teknologirådet in Norway became local centres repeatedly conducting consensus conferences.(17)

Table 1: Consensus Conferences in Denmark. Source:

Year Issue
1987 Gene Technology in Industry and Agriculture
1988 The Citizen and dangerous Production
1989 Human Genome Mapping
Food Irradiation
1990 Air Pollution
1991 Educational Technology
1992 Technological Animals
1993 The Future of Private Automobiles
1994 Electronic Identity Cards
A Light-green Agricultural Sector
Information Technology in Transportation
1995 Chemical substances in Food and the Environment
Gene Therapy
1996 The Future of Fishing
The Consumption and Environment of the future
1997 Teleworking
1999 Genetically modified Food
2000 Noise and Technology
Electronic Surveillance
2001 Roadpricing
2002 Testing our Genes

Table 2: Consensus Conferences Danish-Style Worldwide. Source: and research by author

Year Country Issue
1993 Netherlands Genetically modified Animals
1994 United Kingdom Plant Biotechnology
1995 Netherlands Research in Human Genetics
1996 Netherlands Natural Resources
New Zealand Plant Biotechnology
Norway Genetically modified Food
1997 Austria Tropospheric Ozone
USA Telecommunications and Democracy
1998 France Genetically modified Organisms
Japan Gene Therapy
Korea Genetically modified Food
Switzerland Electricity
1999 Australia Genetically modified Food
Canada Genetically modified Food
Japan Information Society
Korea Cloning
New Zealand Biotechnological Pest Control
Switzerland Genetically modified Food
United Kingdom Radioactive Waste
2000 Israel Traffic
Norway Genetically modified Food (follow-up 1996)
Norway Elderly People in the Information Society
Switzerland Transplantation Medicine
2001 Germany Genetic Testing
Israel Unemployment
Norway Stem Cells and Therapeutic Cloning
2002 USA Genetically modified Food
2003 Austria Genetic Data
Norway Future Heating of Norwegian Homes
USA Future of Food
2004 Switzerland Research involving Human Beings

Another accompanying feature of the international rise of the Danish consensus model is its close association with issues related to genetic engineering and biotechnology. The high rate of consensus conferences on these issues is remarkable and it is considerably higher in the international use of the Danish model than in Denmark itself. While in Denmark about 22% of all deliberative exercises focused on biotechnology, in the international environment the respective share is 58%. (Table 1 and 2) Furthermore, among consensus conferences on biotechnology, debates on genetically modified food stand out. Seven out of 16 countries, which had consensus conferences, run deliberations on genetically modified food.

Apparently, these proportions mirror the institutional perception of biotechnology as public problem or, put another way, the perception of the public as a problem for biotechnology-policy. Without suggesting a simple causality, one might contend that the international rise of the Danish consensus model to a considerable extent owes itself to the international rise in public controversies over biotechnology.

Thus, in most countries, which held consensus conferences on biotechnology issues, publics either were particularly sensitive or had experienced sharp biotech-conflicts in the past or were presently going through such conflicts.(18) Equally, the climax in consensus exercises on genetically modified food in the late 90s, when national and European authorities were under pressure from a strong movement against these foods, testifies to the association of institutional deliberative effort and public conflict.


Austria: political culture, modernisation conflicts and recent ruptures

To better gauge the Austrian experience with the Danish model the local context has to be taken into account. Features of this context are a rather unreceptive institutional milieu for participatory initiatives,(19) an occasionally powerful protest culture and, since 2000, deep-reaching political ruptures.

A major obstacle to participatory experimenting constitutes the Austrian bureaucracy. Being both highly influential and inaccessible to citizens' demands administrative expert elites typically prepare laws and design policies in seclusion. Second, two governing parties typically dominate political life at the expense of positions at the margins of the political spectrum. For the longest time, these parties were the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party who governed in grand coalition. The formation of a new coalition government of People's Party and the right-wing Freedom Party in February 2000 shattered this system. Though, since then, the Social Democrats' influence in public life is being progressively dismantled, the system has not become more inclusive. Rather, the subsequent polarisation of political life has brought about an institutional hardening of government policy.

Third, the "social partners" classically are part and parcel of the Austrian decision-making process. The neo-corporatist arrangement, joining together corporate labour and capital, had been set up in the post-war years in order to negotiate class compromise at the elite level and thus forestall open social striving. The key element of the arrangement is the avoidance of public controversy. Decisions are intimately negotiated behind closed doors while symbolic controversies divert public attention. The influence of this neo-corporatist arrangement equally retreated in recent years, equally accelerated by the government's reshuffling in 2000.

If party dominance and opaque decision structures are averse to public debate on common issues, policies pertaining to science and technology are even more remote from public scrutiny. One reason is that, traditionally, such policies were of minor importance for the rather retarded development of Austrian high-tech industries. Furthermore, policies supportive of science and technology, for a long time, depended on fragmented and clientelistic distributive structures and therefore remained hard to grasp for the public eye. And finally, media interest in science and technology is traditionally moderate in Austria.

Then again, the Austrian public is far from being entirely unmoved by issues linked to science and technology. On some occasions, social movements scored veritable victories against the political establishment by mobilising the broad public against technological projects.(20) In the late 70s, a civil movement of unprecedented force obstructed governmental plans to construct a nuclear power plant, and thus even blocked any future use of nuclear power in Austria. Later, in the mid 80s, the equally spectacular thwarting of a hydropower project led to the formation of the Greens, who, since then, constitute one of the four parliamentary parties. Finally, in the late 90s, the controversy over genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology aroused public moods, provoked the second largest popular initiative in Austria's political history and forced the government to adopt highly rigorous biotechnology-policies.(21)

These contentious episodes have left their marks on Austria's political culture. Besides the parliamentary Greens, a dense web of environmental NGOs has taken root, some of which in latent alliance with the powerful popular press. Even so, the protest strand in the country's political culture has not brought about its "participatory modernisation." While official political discourse stresses the importance of environmental protection and consumer safety, and a number of environmental associations are supported and thus, to some degree, co-opted by the state, neither is there an animated and autonomous public debate on trajectories of technological modernisation, nor any experimenting with institutional channels conducive to such a debate.

Finally, an adequate account of Austria's political landscape needs to consider recent ruptures. The importance of the change from the seemingly everlasting grand coalition to a conservative little coalition government in early 2000 can hardly be overestimated. As one major consequence, the traditional consociational pattern of conflict resolution gave way to an adversarial style of political decision-making.(22)

The Austrian "Wende" also finds its expression in major institutional restructurings in higher education, science and technology policy. In an unprecedented move, the country's entire research-infrastructure was subjected to deep-reaching reforms. With the overall aim of enhancing international competitiveness, reforms strive to undo the ills of fragmentation, clientelism and distributive egalitarianism that so long had obstructed policy-initiatives in the past. Therefore, in all domains of state-funded applied research, centralised, hierarchical decision-making structures are instated, while public spending is dramatically cut in research fields deemed useless for enhancing national competitiveness.(23) Again, rather than being consensually established out of consideration for affected groups, decisions often are pushed through, often against severe protest.


The Austrian "BürgerInnenkonferenz"

The consensus conference titled "BürgerInnenkonferenz Genetische Daten Woher, Wohin, Wozu?"(24) The issue under debate was the potential use and abuse and of genetic data. The conference was the second of its kind in Austria(25), however, the first - at least according to its stated intent - of nationwide impetus.

Sponsor of the conference was the "Austrian Council - Rat für Forschung und Technologieentwicklung." In 2000, the committee - composed of eight personalities from industry and academia - had been instated by the Austrian government to function as the central advisory body in designing and steering the current reform in science and technology-policy. The highly influential commission thus represents a major element of the recent rupture.

From its very beginning, the improvement of public acceptance of science and technology figured high among the Council's priorities. In September 2002 the Council, therefore, instigated a broad image campaign, comprising, among others, three PR and lobbying companies, some editorial offices of the Austrian broadcasting agency ORF(26), and various ministries and private associations engaged in the enhancement of the "Public Understanding of Science".(27) The awareness campaign consists of 40 projects, among them, the design of a trademark of science and technology, the launching of the web-based image campaign "" and the establishment of "centres of communication" endowing large research corporations with know how in public relations. The consensus conference was one among these initiatives.

The idea to run a deliberative exercise as part of the general awareness package came up in early 2001.(28) "Communication matters", one of the three PR agencies, who so far had been engaged in conventional science communications, and actors from the ranks of the ministerial bureaucracy brought it up and got it through the steering committee which was in charge of the image campaign's carrying out.

The PR agency was inexperienced in running consensus conferences. To better understand the deliberative procedure, project managers first had to enquire with local and international experts and review the literature on the subject. In fact, acquiring this experience was among the agency's main motives for engaging in the exercise. By capitalizing on the favourable circumstances of a well funded image campaign a deliberative procedure could be tried out in an early stage. There is an international trend towards consensus conferences, which, therefore, might represent a promising model for the emerging domestic market in science communication. Acquiring firsthand know-how would help to provide a competitive edge, should it come to the broader implementation of the model.(29)

Conversely, the issue to be debated in the consensus conference was of minor importance. Initial ideas had turned around problems of nuclear energy and car traffic, a later candidate was human stem cell research. They were discarded for being too controversial. Finally, the choice fell on problems surrounding the production, use and possible abuse of genetic data.

There was no obvious reason suggesting this choice. The big Austrian controversy on genetic engineering had focused on different issues, namely biotechnology in food and agriculture, and had disappeared from the media agenda by 2000.(30) Further, with respect to genetic data no decision-making process was imminent, no debate going on.

However, the topic was "at hand". In 2001, the Austrian Council had instigated a major technology initiative: the genomics programme GEN-AU (GENome Research in Austria).(31) In the wake of GEN-AU, exercises in interactive science communication focussing on genetic testing already had been carried out. The organising association "dialog < > gentechnik" disposed over the required expert knowledge and, upon request from the organizers, proved eager to provide its expertise in the planned consensus conference.(32)

Considering the group's origin and raison d'être, its eagerness to contribute to the conference is not surprising. "dialog < > gentechnik" had come into being in the late 90s as direct result of the Austrian biotechnology conflict. Then faced with acute public hostility, Austria's biotechnological research community had set up the organisation with the aim of actively fostering the public image of Austria's bioscience.(33)

In other cases, the organizers' quest to integrate external information sources and thus social actors into the project worked out as well, albeit less smoothly. When an expert from the major Austrian TA-unit was invited to participate, he and the backing institution fervently refused at firsthand. The fact that a commercial agency was conducting the procedure as part of a broad image campaign with the ultimate purpose to advance public acceptance for science and technology did not correspond with the institutions normative understanding of a deliberative exercise.(34) Yet, after some discussion the expert fitted into the arrangement.(35)

Finally, the TA-expert, an executive of "dialog < > gentechnik", a university professor in molecular biology, at the same time, chairman of "dialog < > gentechnik", and a university professor in the sociology of science constituted a working group responsible for designing the exercise.(36) Apart from the required cognitive input, this broader inclusion of external actors from academia helped to bestow the procedure with the air of impartiality and legitimacy.(37)

With the working group's help, another advisory body, the scientific advisory board, was assembled. It comprised seven experts covering the fields of technology assessment, medicine, bioethics, human genetics, policy and law. These experts, then, proposed a larger range of experts as candidates to be questioned by the laypersons during the conference.(38)

In order to compose a representative lay-panel, invitations were sent to a random selection of 4000 persons, 105 of which responded positively. From these, 12 persons were finally selected according to demographic criteria. During two workshops in April and May participants acquainted themselves with the issue at stake and consented on a catalogue of issues to be examined closer.(39) These issues were genetic counselling and research, genetic screening, data protection and ethical aspects. Other subjects under discussion, like prenatal and preimplantation genetic diagnosis and research on human stem cells, were discarded for reasons of time limitation. Next, from the issue catalogue the lay panel formulated a number of questions and chose a selection of experts to whom these questions were to be addressed from the list composed by the advisory board.

The expert hearings took place on a Friday and Saturday in late June. The Sunday thereafter was dedicated to the working out of a set of recommendations which comprised as major points: the obligatory provision of psychological counselling for patients faced with a grave diagnosis, the improvement of public education on genetic data, public support for independent research, cautions regulations in mass-screenings, highest standards in data protection and a lowering of the age limit for voluntary genetic testing.

On Monday, these recommendations were presented in a press conference and formally handed over to the chairman of the sponsoring Austrian Council who, together with the organisers, declared the deliberative exercise a success worthy of further consideration.(40) Some days after, a delegation of the conference, the Council's chairman and the head of the organising PR agency, handed the recommendations over to the Chairman of Parliament who welcomed the initiative and promised to pass the conference's recommendations on to Members of Parliament.

Public and media attention for the event was very poor. Apart from observers with a professional interest and participants immediately involved, only a handful of interested visitors attended the press conference. Just as little was the event's resonance in the mass media. Highlights of media activity were a story in the ORF late news and a background report in an ORF radio programme. Also, the ORF internet-platform for science news, involved in the broad information campaign on science and technology, covered the event with four reports and two commentaries. Much feebler was media reporting beyond the ORF. The private print media corporations hardly took notice. An online-research results in five articles in three dailies and about an equal number in more specialised journals.



It is difficult to conclusively assess the political impact of the "BürgerInnenkonferenz". Rapid technological change drives decision-making processes in Austria and elsewhere, rendering future debates unforeseeable. Yet, given the virtual absence of current debates on issues related to genetic data, such an influence on regulation or policy-making is improbable.

Neither the Austrian Data Protection Act nor the Electronic Data Transmission Act, which regulate aspects of genetic data protection and therefore might be considered candidates for political influence, were being amended at the time of the exercise. The same holds for the Act on Genetic Engineering, which, as it touches upon medical applications, had been amended the year before. Imminent at the time of the conference was the amendment of the Act on Reproductive Medicine. In this case, however, debates, which might have had an impact on the process, like a debate on human stem cell research, were excluded from the panel's agenda either in the conceptual stage or in the course of the panel's deliberations. Such definitional exclusions were warranted with time pressure or - outspokenly - with the topic's controversial nature. The avoidance of contentious matters was one of the goals of the organisers', whose major interest was to successfully stage an innovative means of science communication.

If there was no relevant political effect, one might search for effects the consensus project had on the broader public. As is standard with deliberative exercises, the quest for a "broad public debate" was among the stated motives. From a normative perspective such indirect effects may indeed be considered crucial. Since citizens' common sense assessments brought forward in such exercises neither can be considered representative nor technically reliable, their results as such might be less important than the side effect of triggering media debate and the demonstration of the very possibility of the "technological citizen".(41)

The fact that no such side effects occurred does not come as a surprise to anyone acquainted with Austrian media discourse, as it pertains to science and technology. While organisers were eager to publicise the event, related matters rarely attract public attention. Moreover, since there was no perceptible political significance, newspaper editors had no incentive to report on it, notwithstanding the PR agency's professional efforts to make it known.

Thus, the virtual absence of media resonance reinforces the impression of the event's general pettiness. Did the deliberative exercise have substantial political effects? Did it trigger a broader public debate? The answer to these initial questions is clearly negative.

Yet, the Austrian experience raises interesting questions for further research when interpreted as a local episode within a broader, international development, in the course of which political systems adopt deliberative procedures in potentially contentious modernisation fields. In the biotechnology-field, a precedent for this type of institutional innovation was set when, in 2001, the Austrian government established a bioethics committee and thus, with some delay, followed the international tendency.(42)

Evidently, in contrast to the bioethics committee, the consensus experiment remained without the least political impact. Although in both cases recommendations are noncommittal, the bioethics committee's advice carries by far more weight. Its expert authority renders ignoring the committee risky for the government, its salience in public discourse augments this influence, and its permanence facilitates the creation of a consistent line. By contrast, the authority of a consensus conference - per definition - does not exceed the authority of a randomly composed group of citizens, publicly the Austrian exercise was virtually invisible, and it constituted a single event.

Then again, it might have been just these qualities that made the exercise eligible for being put on stage. Neither has Austria any tradition of experimentation with citizen participation nor were current ruptures conducive to the emergence of such a current. Indeed, the contrary is the case. The Austrian "Wende" generally intensified adversarial politics and, in the fields of science and technology, diminished existing forms of deliberation and participation by instating centralised and hierarchical decision structures.

The internationally "mobile" Danish model, however, proved capable of reconciling these contradictions. What is more, it proved feasible enough to be organised by a beforehand ignorant PR agency, ambiguous enough to be inserted into a broad image-campaign for science and technology promotion, and malleable enough not to touch upon any ongoing decision-making process. Such preconditions for the international mobility of the Danish consensus conference might be an interesting subject for future enquiries into the international spread of this type of the Danish model.

© Franz Seifert (Wien)


(1) Supported by the Austrian Science Fund, FWF. This article is based on the research-project "Austria's biotechnology conflict in the world." (P16403-G04) Authors e-mail address:

(2) Haug 1999, also see: Crouch/Streeck 1997.

(3) Hirsch 1998.

(4) Tarrow 1998.

(5) Kitschelt 1986.

(6) Davison et al. 1997.

(7) Weale 2001. As one variant, see also Hans Keune's contribution in this volume.

(8) Held 1996.

(9) E.g. Fishkin 1991, Cohen/Rogers 1995, Schmalz-Bruns 1995.

(10) An example is Wolfgang van den Daele's arrangement of a "participatory technology assessment" of transgenic herbicide-resistant crops. Representatives of corporate promoters and opponents of agricultural biotechnology were brought to engage in a controlled "ideal discourse" on the risks of genetically modified food crops. Since they were provided with all scientific expertise necessary to warrant their argumentation the procedure ultimately resulted in the creation of an interdisciplinary library on the contested issue. Expertise thus antagonistically assembled ultimately proves useful to regulatory elites. (Van den Daele 1994, Van den Daele et al. 1997).

(11) See Grabner et al. 69-72.

(12) Weingart 1999.

(13) See Barber 1984, See also Fischer 1990, Fishkin 1991, Sclove, 1995.

(14) see Rowe/Frewer 2000, Rowe et al. 2004.

(15) The "Teknologie-Rådet" established in 1985. (

(16) Of which Jesper Lassen remarked: "What is characteristic about the Danish development is that besides the rather traditional assessment of the new biotechnologies by experts, an important part of the policy has been to stimulate a public assessment taking place among the citizens, at debate meetings, at consensus conferences or in the media. The (...) public assessment has perhaps more worked as a way to secure a peaceful introduction of the new biotechnologies, rather than as a tool to shape the technologies in accordance with the results of the public assessment." (1999, 82).

(17) Ironically, the effort for egalitarian de-specialisation spawned new breeds of specialists. The international rise of the consensus model Danish-style, with its compassion for "ordinary laypeople" and contempt of expert elites, created new expert systems and academic career venues for authorities in technological egalitarianism.

(18) As, for instance, was the case with France. (Marris/Joly 1999, Joly/Marris 2003, 200-201, Joly et al. 2003).

(19) Gerlich 1997.

(20) Gottweis 2000.

(21) Seifert 2002, 2003.

(22) Several factors account for the change: coalescing with the right-wing Freedom party constituted the breaking of a taboo, that triggered an unparalleled protest-wave, the Social Democrat's loss of power after three decades of government entailed bitter reshufflings in public service, and finally, the deep-reaching conservative reform programme was carried through against stiff opposition. (Filzmaier 2003).

(23) As, for instance, major parts of the humanities and social sciences.

(24) Citizens' conference: Genetic data - wherefrom, whereto, wherefor?

(25) The first consensus conference dealt with tropospheric ozone and took place in 1997 in Vienna. Suffering from resource scarcity it neither produced satisfying results nor influenced policy to an extent worth noting. (Grabner et al 2002, 62-66).

(26) Österreichischer Rundfunk.

(27) RFT 2003.

(28) (Interview 3.3.04, on file with the author).

(29) BürgerInnenkonferenz 2003, 68.

(30) Seifert 2003.

(31) Endowed with a three years budget of 31,612 Mill. _, this biggest Austrian technology program ever aims at enhancing Austria's competitiveness in the international high-tech field.

(32) (Interview 3.3.04, on file with the author)

(33) Equally, the PR agency in charge of the virtual platform "" had been engaged in the preceding biotechnology conflict, working to restore the public image of industry whose popularity had been tremendously reduced in the controversy. (Seifert 2002, 194-5) Conversely, "dialog < > gentechnik" had consistently refused industry's support in order to avoid being construed as self-interested. (ibid. 205)

(34) Some observers expressed similar critiques. (Riegler, Johanna, Eva Maria Knoll 2003 Kultur liegt in der Natur des Menschen!

(35) The Austrian Council later commissioned the TA-institution to do the the conference's assessment. (Participatory policy advice - the example of the Austrian Citizens' Conference 2003, 10/2003 - 05/2004,

(36) Forderungen der BürgerInnenkonferenz liegen vor.

(37) Nonetheless, internal tensions never completely evaporated. (Interview 26.4.04, on file with the author).

(38) BürgerInnenkonferenz 2003, 52-57.

(39) One participant left the group after the first sessions for personal reasons.

(40) Forderungen der BürgerInnenkonferenz liegen vor.

(41) Only in this sense, the - often quoted - "finding" that citizens proved capable of absorbing specialised knowledge and formulating reasonable policy recommendations can be considered a criterion for the exercise's success. The fact that lay people, who are motivated to learn and provided with the required means, are able to become as competent decision-makers as "the real" experts falls short of being trivial. Besides, it is one of the major assumptions underlying the very possibility of democracy.

(42) Gmeiner 2003, 170.


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3.2. Sektion sozialverträgliche Wissenschaftskulturen

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  15 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Franz Seifert (Wien): Internationally mobile consensus: The Austrian experience with the Danish model. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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