An agonistic approach to technological conflict

Philosophy and Technology 34 (34):717–737 (2020)
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Traditional approaches to conflict are oriented towards establishing (or re-establishing) consensus, either in the form of a resolution of the conflict or in the form of an ‘agree-to-disagree’ standstill between the stakeholders. In this paper, we criticize these traditional approaches, each for specific reasons, and we propose and develop the agonistic approach to conflict. Based on Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic democratic theory, the agonistic approach to conflict is more welcoming of dissensus, replacing discussion stoppers with discussion starters and replacing standstills with contestation. We illustrate such replacements and develop this approach, we analyse technological conflicts in a concrete R&D setting: the global hydrogen economy. From this context, we focus on the conflict between the proponents of blue hydrogen (drawn from fossil fuels) and those of green hydrogen (created through electrolysis). We conclude by highlighting the advantage of the agonistic approach but also drawing attention to its own specific risk, namely, antagonism.

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Vincent Blok
Wageningen University and Research


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