The Irony of Epistemic Learning: Epistemic Communities and Policy in Learning Europe's Hormones Saga
Policy and Society
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Epistemic communities are at their most powerful in novel and technically complex policy issues when decision-makers’ and stakeholders’ understandings are rudimentary. A successful epistemic community reduces uncertainty through policy learning. These lessons enable policy actors to recognise their preferences thus making such issues more tractable. However, policy learning is dynamic and has various modes. Where an epistemic community’s advice points in unfavourable policy directions, rival lessons may be crafted by policy actors thus threatening an epistemic community’s place as principal teacher on an issue. What happens to the influence of epistemic communities that do not attend to these alternative interpretations? Can epistemic communities teach in the ‘wrong’ mode? Using the empirical case of the long-running hormone growth promoters saga in the European Union (EU) we show how, even in complex technical issues, learning in the epistemic mode may not dominate for long. Specifically, we identify a key barrier to epistemic communities’ influence neglected in the literature: the ‘irony of epistemic learning’. In setting the foundational knowledge on novel issues, epistemic communities provide non-specialist governance actors with the resources to oppose the very knowledge these experts have created thereby curtailing their influence. We conclude with a discussion about whether epistemic communities can and should overcome this irony.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 36, Iss. 2, pp. 215-232