Critical sociology of the local public inquiry system: a study of the formulation and presentation of opposition to the North Sea oil and gas onshore development
Rodger, John J.
The aim of this thesis is to achieve both a theoretical and empirical understanding of the local public inquiry system in the context of controversial North Sea oil and gas onshore developments. Part one develops a theoretical framework within which an analytical vocabulary is generated to describe the case studies in part two. it is argued that a concept of the political process which acknowledges that power and participation are inextricably bound together in public institutions is particularly appropriate for studying an institution such as a local public inquiry because it is both an instrument of government and a means of ensuring the fulfillment of 'natural justice' to individuals affected by planning and development issues. Part one develops this idea first through an historical examination of the concept of 'natural justice1 as a conflict between 'common-sense' notions of justice and 'formal' legal and administrative interpretations of what is 'fair', and then as a theoretical debate between the critical theory of Jurgen Habermas and the systems theory of Nicklas Luhmann. Part one concludes by arguing that the essence of the tension between Habermas and Luhmann articulates the tension between 'common-sense' notions of justice and 'formal legal' notions and that by using the vocabulary of 'classification and framing of knowledge' developed within educational sociology by Basil Bernstein, the Habermas-Luhmann debate can be condensed into an analytical tool enclosed within one theoretical structure. Power and participation as inter-connected forms of political engagement are expressed within the concept of the 'classification and framing of knowledge' as conflicting patterns in the relationship between knowledge and information and the institutional procedures that process that knowledge and information. Part two explicitly seeks to use the concept of the 'classification and framing' of knowledge to make visible the principles of power and social control that operate in large public inquiries. Attention is focused on local public inquiries into North Sea oil and gas onshore development; the case studies of the Cromarty Firth, Dunnet Bay and Drumbuie are described to illustrate how the 'classification and framing1 of knowledge operated in the Highlands in the 1970's. The case of Shell/Esso's petrochemical development in Fife is examined in detail to describe, first, the nature of participation and discontent within the local public inquiry system, and secondly, the relationship between the formation of local opposition in the form of an action group and the nature of the constraints imposed upon that organisation by the local public inquiry system. Part three attempts to clarify the theoretical and practical problems involved in reforming the local public inquiry system within the terms established by this thesis. The work of Jurgen Habermas is considered pivotal for developing a critical sociology of the public sphere. It is tentatively suggested that the new social movements rooted in ecology and opposition to nuclear power could be the bearers of an emerging critical theory of society and technology which might the grounding for a unified theory and practice which could lead to institutional change in society generally and in the planning sphere in particular.