‘The Kāpiti Distressway’: A Sociological Case Study of Public Involvement in a Socio-Technical Controversy
This thesis examines public involvement in socio-technical controversies from a sociological perspective. Public engagement in science and technology is becoming increasingly important in societies where citizens are asked, and expected, to be involved with issues that have been dominated by experts. In New Zealand, a contemporary example of public participation in science and technology is the large-scale road building programme called the Roads of National Significance. The central aim of this thesis is to understand how the public engage with and create meaningful evaluations of complex issues that are associated with expert-driven politics and top-down decision-making processes. I examine the public’s involvement in the Kāpiti expressway project by discussing how locally-based groups evaluated and publicised it as an object of concern. Specifically, I investigate the demonstration and visual imagery technologies that were utilised to publicise the expressway as a public matter. I then explore how opponents translated their concerns with the environmental, political, and social aspects of the project as legal and technical issues. The second aim of this thesis is to contribute to the material turn in the human sciences by engaging with object-oriented (Barry, 2013; Latour, 2005a; Marres & Lezaun, 2011) and socio-cultural (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) approaches to public involvement in socio-technical controversies. The role that technologies play in materialising public participation and re-presenting the Kāpiti expressway project as an object of concern are examined. However, to create a dialogue between object-oriented and socio-cultural approaches to public dispute, I investigate the technologies of justification and criticism, and the cultural modes of evaluation that qualify people and things within moral vocabularies. I argue that the public were obliged to re-present the Kāpiti expressway as an object of concern by demonstrating how their personal objections were relevant to the legal and technical aspects of the project. A range of technological devices enabled local groups to evaluate the project during the early planning stages of the project, but convincing decision-makers to reject the expressway involved the difficult task of critiquing the planning process, and enrolling allies. This thesis uses a qualitative, case study approach to socio-technical controversies. I use interviews, qualitative observations, and documentary methods to examine the actions of locally-based groups and the modes of evaluation used to challenge the Kāpiti expressway project.