Frankenstein food? The legitimation processes of GM Food in the Netherlands

Frankenstein food? The legitimation processes of GM Food in the Netherlands

Author: Sikke Jansma – University of Twente, The Netherlands

Jordy Gosselt – University of Twente
Kimberly Kuipers – University of Twente

Genetically modified (GM) food has been the subject of public controversy ever since its first application in the 1970s. In general, new technological innovations, such as GM food, are often confronted with doubts or resistance from society. Gaining legitimacy among the general public helps in overcoming this and, therefore, plays a key role in the establishment or survival of an innovation. Focusing on the case of GM food in the Netherlands, we studied how the process of legitimation in the public discourse has evolved by applying the four pillars of legitimation derived from institutional literature: normative, cognitive, regulative and pragmatic. We conducted a qualitative media-analysis, analyzing 287 articles of nine Dutch newspapers in the period of 1996-2016. The results show that all four pillars of legitimation are apparent in the public discourse, and that they form a useful framework to organize the information published in the media. With regard to the case of GM food, we found that the sentiment of the debate was mostly negative and centered around the normative pillar (ethical considerations). Also the cognitive (explanation of GM food) pillar was addressed in a negative way, albeit to a lesser extent. The pragmatic (usefulness) and regulative (rules and regulations) pillars were hardly addressed by the media, but respectively in a positive and neutral way. This study gives insights in which pillars, or domains, to focus on for increasing the legitimacy of GM food. Furthermore, from a theoretical perspective we propose to use the pillars of legitimacy as a framework to analyze and compare the public debate of different technological innovations.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication