Science and Public Reason: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Science and Public Reason

1st Edition

By Sheila Jasanoff


304 pages

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This essay collection explores how democratic governments construct public reason—that is, the forms of evidence and argument used in making state decisions accountable to citizens. The term public reason as used here is not simply a matter of constructing principled arguments that respect the norms of democratic deliberation. My objective is to investigate what societies do in practice when they claim to be reasoning in the public interest. Reason, from this perspective, comprises the institutional practices, discourses, techniques and instruments through which governments claim legitimacy in an era of potentially unbounded risks—physical, political, and moral. Those legitimation efforts, in turn, depend on citizens’ acceptance of the forms of reasoning that governments offer. Included here therefore is an inquiry into the conditions that lead citizens of democratic societies to accept policy justification as being reasonable. These modes of public knowing, or “civic epistemologies,” are integral to the constitution of political culture as described in this book. Methodologically, the book is grounded in the field of science and technology studies (STS). It uses in-depth qualitative studies of legal and political practices to shed light on the cultural construction of public reason and the reasoning political subject. It employs comparative analysis to illuminate the diverse ways in which science and expertise are factored into democratic decisionmaking; and it illustrates how STS scholarship can use comparison without falling into rigidly structural analysis. The collection as a whole contributes to democratic theory, legal studies, comparative politics, and ethnographies of modernity, as well as STS.


'This collection brings together a quarter century of writing by Sheila Jasanoff on the sources and impacts of science and technology. In showing how they permeate public life, she demonstrates also that the field of Science and Technology Studies is no arcane specialty, but a research field of sweeping significance for law, history, administration, and the social sciences. At stake in the interactions of science with democratic institutions is public reason itself.' - Theodore M. Porter, UCLA, USA

'This book fascinatingly asks: What begins where all that seems solid, all that modernity has created, melts into air, leaving no shared ground to stand on? Sheila Jasanoff's exciting answer: a new age and style of public reason that can shed surprisingly clear light on a world in turmoil.' - Ulrich Beck, University of Munich, Germany & L.S.E, U.K

'No one has contributed as much as Sheila Jasanoff to furthering our understanding of the importance of law in the complex relationships that develop between politics and technoscience. Science and Public Reason is more than a collection of her most significant articles on the subject; this seminal book opens entirely original perspectives on what, in a globalized world, a new alliance between science, techniques and democracy could and should be.' - Michel Callon, Ecole des mines de Paris, France

‘Sheila Jasanoff’s latest book demonstrates, once again, why she is at the very forefront of her field.’ - Bruce Ackerman, Yale University, USA

About the Author

Sheila Jasanoff is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. A pioneer in her field, she has authored more than 100 articles and chapters and is author or editor of a dozen books, including The Fifth Branch (Harvard University Press), Science at the Bar (Harvard University Press), and Designs on Nature (Princeton University Press).

About the Series

The Earthscan Science in Society Series

The Earthscan Science in Society Series aims to publish new high quality research, teaching, practical and policy- related books on topics that address the complex and vitally important interface between science and society.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Economic Development
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Environmental Economics
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy