Standards: Living in a Certified Society
Professor Lawrence Busch, Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics
The last several decades have seen a virtual explosion in standards, certifications, and accreditations for nearly everything and everyone.Nearly everything we purchase and many of the things we do are subject to certifications and accreditations. Moreover, while some of this is the province of governments, far more has been developed - usually with great enthusiasm - by the private sector and by civil society organisations.
Certifications and accreditations claim to resolve the problem of trust. We are told that we can trust 'fair trade' coffee, or a certified swimming instructor. But, instead, this appears merely to displace it from the person or object in question to a certification or accreditation organization that is both abstract and distant and impossible for us to independently evaluate.
Furthermore, the organisations that certify and accredit occupy a peculiar space in contemporary societies. They tend to be outside conventional appeals processes, and rarely subject to a division of powers. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that they now form a global governmentality - a form of the pseudo-state, dependant on the real state for their existence but with great autonomy and no public control.
Finally, the proliferation of certifications and accreditations means that everyone of us is constantly prodded, cajoled, urged to conform to certain behavioural rules. This forces us to ask some difficult questions: What brought on this onslaught of certifications? Where is it likely to lead us? What kind of person is the ideal certified and accredited member of this new society? Is that the future we want?
Lawrence Busch is Professor of Standards and Society at the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics at Lancaster University and University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards at Michigan State University. He is (co)author or (co)editor of twelve books including a forthcoming volume on standards, as well as more than 150 other publications. He is past president of both the Rural Sociological Society and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole and and elected member of the Académie d'Agriculture de France. He recently received a doctor honoris causa from the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa.
Professor Busch's interests include food and agricultural standards, biotechnology and nanotechnology policy, agricultural science and technology policy, higher education in agriculture, and public participation in the policy process.