The Politics of Politico-Epistemic Authority. The Case of Independent Food Safety Agencies in the UK and in Germany

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Dokumentart: Dissertation
Date: 2021-01-27
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Politikwissenschaft
Advisor: Abels, Gabriele (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2020-09-15
DDC Classifikation: 320 - Political science
Keywords: Politische Steuerung , Politische Autorität , Lebensmittelsicherheit , Ernährung , Transnationale Politik , Global Governance , Max Weber , Repräsentation , Verbraucherpolitik , Verbraucherschutz , Regulierung
Other Keywords: unabhängige Regulierungsagenturen
nichtmajoritäre Institutionen
Hannah Arendt
Science & Technology Studies
nonmajoritarian institutions
Science & Technology Studies
practice theory
knowledge orders
independent regulatory agencies
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For more than a decade, political science has dealt with the rise of expert institutions in the post-national constellation. Political decision-making is increasingly being delegated to so-called “non-majority institutions” - such as central banks, international organizations and “independent regulatory agencies”, which are the subject of this thesis. Their legitimacy, according to the current line of argumentation, is not based on representativeness and electoral mechanisms; rather, these institutions are sought to gain legitimacy through expertise. However, in view of the increasing plurality and politicization of expertise, they are confronted with growing scepticism and counter-expertise as well as with demands for public control and participation. The use of expertise in policy-making becomes the grounds on which to confer authority for political decisions and simultaneously it becomes the subject of political struggle and public contestation. But how do independent regulatory agencies - in the face of this paradox - establish and maintain expert authority? Based on the assumption that the constitution of the expert authority of independent regulatory agencies requires explanation, the thesis investigates this question by examining agencies in the highly controversial field of food safety in Great Britain and Germany from 2000 to 2015. Building on the concept of authority in Max Weber’s and Hannah Arendt’s writings, the thesis understands expert authority as the (necessarily precarious) result of the tight coupling of claims to epistemic and political authority and their legitimation. Based on extensive document analysis and expert interviews conducted in the course of in-depth case studies, the conception of the “politics of politico-epistemic authority” is further developed and empirically grounded. It can be shown that the constant authorization and legitimation work of the examined agencies is shaped by context-specific dominant knowledge orders: The co-production of political and epistemic authority in the case of the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) is based on an “advocatory knowledge order” which, in line with the British “public interest culture” puts a strong focus on the inclusion of vulnerable consumer groups that are often excluded from expert discourse. In contrast, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) relies on the strict separation of knowledge and political judgement, hence a technocratic knowledge order, which, in line with the German legalistic administrative tradition, focusses on the extensive harmonization of risk assessment procedures within the EU and globally. Consumers here play only a passive role as holders of health protection rights. As the comparison shows, the different styles of authorization and legitimation are embedded in country-specific institutions and cultures of political expertise. Yet, under the conditions of the postnational constellation, the dominant mode of establishing expert authority is based not only on the reproduction of institutional-cultural path dependencies, but rather on the reflexive recombination of existing national institutional traditions with new transnational regulatory discourses. Moreover, based on the diachronic comparison of the two agencies it can also be shown that the different (advocational vs. technocratic) modes of establishing expert authority go hand in hand with different degrees of authority. In both cases, authorization practices remain controversial with regard to competing knowledge orders and democratic norms. However, the technocratic authorization style of the German BfR seems to be more suitable for a successful immunization against criticism than the advocatory style of the British FSA. The thesis concludes by arguing that these empirical findings should not be simply interpreted as an expression of an increasing depoliticization. Rather, the expert authority of independent agencies is constituted through contested representative claims on behalf different consumer types as collective subjects.

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