Lay participation in a public local inquiry
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This dissertation is a study of how power operates in mundane social practice. It is a case study of a public local inquiry which was held in Fife in 1977. I argue that one of the functions of the inquiry system, seen as part of the institutional apparatus of the State, is to secure legitimacy for planning decisions taken by the State. In this study. I examine how legitimacy is secured from a group of local objectors during the course of the inquiry itself. This group expressed and displayed contradictory attitudes to the inquiry before, during and after the inquiry. On the one hand, they participated vigorously throughout the inquiry and claimed to be content with the Reporter's conduct of the inquiry, on the other, they felt that the inquiry was a sham, that a decision had already been taken and that their participation was ineffective. The Reporter's conduct of the inquiry is important in sustaining these contradictory attitudes held by the objectors. I describe how he adopts certain procedures in order to fulfil his bureaucratic role as an information gatherer and at the same time permits certain relaxations of these procedures in order to assist and encourage lay participation, which is his other main duty. This balance between "efficiency" and "democracy" which the Reporter maintains, is shared by the lawyers and expert witnesses who take part in the inquiry, but is only partly understood by the lay objectors as is manifest in the persistence of the contradictions described above. The objectors' critical penetrations of the dominant technical rational mode of decision-making are limited and deflected by their respect for authority and belief in the fairness of the democratic system. These latter views are fostered during the inquiry by the Reporter's sincere attempts to assist the lay objectors. Technical rationality, then, dominates the inquiry, but only by securing the consent of the objectors. This consent, however, is not absolute, but only exists alongside a paradoxical and critical scepticism towards the inquiry process.