Title: Revolution or passing fashion? Reassessing the precautionary principle

Authors: Luigi Pellizzoni

Addresses: Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Uomo, University of Trieste, Piazza Europa 1, 34127 Trieste, Italy

Abstract: Precaution has been for years a controversial issue. Some regard it as a major regulatory innovation, others as an inherently flawed concept. Some consider it an approach still in its infancy, others believe it is a passing fashion. A narrow understanding of its relationship with knowledge and its distributional effects may explain why discussions on the US-EU divergence and on Europe|s own ambivalence about precaution fail to provide a consistent picture. This paper makes a case for a broader perspective: the issue of precaution is related to the social division of labour, namely the intimate connection between knowledge and power. The modern narrative, drawing a sharp divide between (science-based) production and use of knowledge, has faced growing public criticism. The controversy on precaution mixes up tradition and innovation in an ambiguous way, gaining special saliency in Europe vis-a-vis the elaboration of its social model. If tradition is increasingly in trouble, innovation has perils of its own.

Keywords: precaution; precautionary principle; knowledge; risk management; uncertainty; power; narrative; politics; division of labour; social solidarity; transatlantic divide; European social model; disenchantment of science.

DOI: 10.1504/IJRAM.2009.024127

International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, 2009 Vol.12 No.1, pp.14 - 34

Published online: 26 Mar 2009 *

Full-text access for editors Access for subscribers Purchase this article Comment on this article