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Science, technology and the risk society: Australian consumers' attitudes to genetically-engineered foods

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posted on 2023-05-25, 06:17 authored by Janet C Norton

Since the Enlightenment, science and technology have played an increasing role in society. Now, writers such as Ulrich Beck are proposing that the present reliance on technology has brought society to a new age - that of Risk Society. New technologies have the potential to cause global damage if they are misused, either deliberately or accidentally. Both Beck and Anthony Giddens argue that technologies have been used to establish control over the external environment in order to make our lives easier.

One such technology is genetic engineering - which has the ability to change the genetic structure of species. After more than two decades of research to perfect genetic engineering, it is now being introduced to food products - generally without consumer knowledge. It has been 'constructed' within science, business and government as the most appropriate means of producing innovative products but has been developed and applied without consultation with the end-users of the product.

Through the use of both qualitative and quantitative analyses, this thesis examines the Australian public's perceptions of genetically-engineered foods. The aim is to understand, from a sociological perspective, how consumers perceive the technology, who they trust to control the technology, and if they consider that the technology offers risks or benefits to society - both now and in the future.

The data show that acceptance of any genetically-engineered product is dependent on: the type of gene transfer occurring; whether the product will be eaten; and the perceived benefits of the product. As well, women are less sure than men about the potential benefits of genetic engineering. These results are discussed in terms of Beck's attitudes to risk and Giddens' concept of radicalised modernity.


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Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No


Professor Geoff Lawrence ; Professor Graham Wood

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication