The Moral Authority of Science in the Modern World Polity: Evidence from Parliamentary Discourse

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Pinni B building, lecture hall B1097, address: Kanslerinrinne 1

Science has acquired a new level of authority in governance of the modern world. Complex realities and problems are often approached through “science-based decision-making.”

This presentation offers a bottom-up account of the authority of science in national policymaking. Relying on a bottom-up neoinstitutionalist framework of epistemic governance, we examine parliamentary debates from seven countries over 20 years to describe the role of “science” in lawmaking. Our qualitative discourse analysis of debates confirms that usage of “science” is widespread around the world and across all policy sectors. We find ample references not just to particular sciences, but also to science in the abstract, and find hardly any contests around the use of science beyond technical contests around the credibility of a particular result. We also find that science is often disconnected from scientific organizations, but is readily related to budgetary proposals and to general assumptions of modernization.

In all, our analysis confirms world polity theory findings about the institutionalized spread of science worldwide, but extends it qualitatively to identify what work the term does in parliamentary talk. Drawing on and elaborating Durkheim’s framework, we argue that this work can be characterized as a sweeping “moral authority” of science.


The Speakers Series of the University of Tampere is a series of Studia Generalia Lectures in the Study of Society organized weekly by the University of Tampere Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) in cooperation with the New Social Research Programme (NSR). The lectures are given by the Research Fellows as well as the distinguished guests of the IASR and the NSR. For the programme, please check the IASR website Most doctoral students can also get 2 ECTS for attending a minimum of six IASR Lectures, altogether 6 ECTS at the maximum. These 2 ECTS for attending 6 lectures can be earned during two successive terms.

Additional information

Research Secretary Marjukka Virkajärvi,, 050 318 6697