Inderscience Publishers

Revolution or passing fashion? Reassessing the precautionary principle

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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

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