Frankenstein Food? Legitimation of GM Food in the Netherlands

Jansma, S. R. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Genetically modified (GM) food has been the subject of public controversy ever since its first application in the 1970s. In general, new technological innovations, such as GM food, are often confronted with doubts or resistance from society. Gaining legitimacy among the general public helps in overcoming this and, therefore, plays a key role in the establishment or survival of an innovation. Focusing on the case of GM food in the Netherlands, we studied how the process of legitimation in the public discourse has evolved by applying the four pillars of legitimation derived from institutional literature: normative, cognitive, regulative and pragmatic. We conducted a qualitative media-analysis, analyzing 287 articles of nine Dutch newspapers in the period of 1996-2016. The results show that all four pillars of legitimation are apparent in the public discourse, and that they form a useful framework to organize the information published in the media. With regard to the case of GM food, we found that the sentiment of the debate was mostly negative and centered around the normative pillar (ethical considerations). Also the cognitive (explanation of GM food) pillar was addressed in a negative way, albeit to a lesser extent. The pragmatic (usefulness) and regulative (rules and regulations) pillars were hardly addressed, but respectively in a positive and neutral way. This study gives insights in the domains to focus on for increasing the legitimacy of GM food. Furthermore, from a theoretical perspective we propose to use the pillars of legitimacy as a framework to analyze and compare the public debate on different technological innovations.
Period6 Apr 2018
Event title15th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference, PCST 2018: Science, stories and society... the soul of Science Communication
Event typeConference
Conference number15
LocationDunedin, New Zealand


  • GM Food
  • Legitimation
  • Media analysis