Industrial scientific expertise and civil society engagement

Although the significance of scientific expertise is often proposed and empirically illustrated in academic literature, it is still unclear how environmental expertise becomes authoritative, and how its legitimacy can be challenged. In order to understand the interplay between scientific expertise and civil society engagement, this paper examines how industrial scientific expertise has worked with surrounding communities and civil society to inform scientific decisions, and for the co-creation of scientific knowledge formations. A particular case is analysed, that of the South Durban Industrial Basin in KwaZulu-Natal. This area comprises a mixed use of residential areas juxtaposed with heavy industries. Scientific expertise, especially within the industrial sectors, is therefore important in the prevention, alleviation and management of risks to residents, society and the environment. The study finds that there is poor engagement between scientific expertise with communities and civil society, not least when it comes to environmental issues. A reason for this is poor governance, enforcement and leadership with an overriding objective of industrial expansion for economic development by both government and industry. Another reason is that, with a few exceptions, the communities have mainly been concerned about socio-economic issues. This has resulted in a double bind, where scientific expertise and government have not shared environmental information with civil society at the same as the civil society, has not on the whole requested it.

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