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The Future of Governance in a Risky World: Shall We Be Proactionary or Precautionary?

This event took place in February 2013

Two competing principles have emerged in policy circles that may define the terms of ideological engagement in the 21st century. They rest on different attitudes to risk. The more established ‘precautionary principle’, a staple in international environmental law, aims above all to avoid irreversible harm when making risky decisions. In contrast, the more recent ‘proactionary principle’, much favoured by transhumanists, sees the avoidance of risk as itself an irreversible harm – in the form of lost opportunities. The two principles rest on alternative readings of the history of science and technology: The precautionaries stressing our increasing alienation and destabilisation of nature, while the proactionaries emphasise our increasing control and extension of nature. This workshop will explore how this distinction plays out in various policy contexts, its relationship to the classic left-right ideological divide, and the prospects for a synthesis or reconciliation of positions.

Host: Prof Steve Fuller, Sociology

Guest: Rene von Schomberg, Director-General for Research, European Commission

Required Reading:

1. Fuller, S.‘Precautionary and proactionary as the new left and the new right of the twenty-first century ideological spectrum’. International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. Vol. 25/4 (2012): 157-174.

2. Schomberg, R.v. ‘The precautionary principle and its normative challenges', in E. Fisher, J. Jones and R. von Schomberg. (eds) (2006), Implementing the Precautionary Principle: Perspectives and Prospects, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, chapter 2.