Scientists and the Regulation of Risk

Scientists and the Regulation of Risk

Standardising Control

David Demortain

Risks are increasingly regulated by international standards, and scientists play a key role in standardisation. This fascinating book exposes the action of ‘invisible colleges’ of scientists – loose groups of prominent scientific experts who combine practical experience of risk and control with advisory responsibility – in the formulation of international standards.

Chapter 2: Communities, Networks and Colleges: Expert Collectives in Transnational Regulation

David Demortain

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


The relation between science and policy, those who know and those who govern, is an old theme in social science, from politicians’ and scientists’ distinct ethics and logic of social action (Weber, 1919) to the concentration of scientific resources within overlapping elite political, corporate and military circles (Mills, 1956), passing by the policy-driving role of sciencepolicy institutions and ‘scientific estate’ in post-World War II USA (Gilpin and Wright, 1964; Price, 1965; Haberer, 1969). More recently, references to various types of transnational, international or even global communities and networks have flourished. Two of these seem to specifically account for the action of scientific professionals in transnational regulation and combine a political and epistemic point of view on these actors, appropriate to understand their standardising action: epistemic communities and global knowledge networks. My intention in this chapter is to present the analytical tools that have been used to account for the hybrid form that transnational expert collectives take, and assess whether and how to use them. Communities and networks are often presented as relational logics that are intermediary between hierarchies and markets, and as such they have been extensively applied to experts to account for the way in which they mediate other actors or organizations (Mayntz, 2010). I will describe what properties of expert collectives they emphasize or on the contrary overlook, to finally argue in favour of a notion of invisible college that is, I think, more appropriate to capture the complex and mixed webs of relationships by which standard knowledge...

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