, Volume 76, Issue 4, pp 401-415
Date: 10 Feb 2009

Democracy or expertise? objectivity as an elusive ideal in the resolution of a Vermont land use dispute

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Abstract

This paper looks at attempts to chart a course through social conflict over the environment. Focusing on a case in northern Vermont, it considers two different approaches to resolving conflict: reliance on a democratic process and turning decision making over to experts. In Vermont, attempts to implement either of these approaches were dogged by controversy. The argument in this paper is that both approaches rely on unexamined notions of objectivity that obscure the decisive role of underlying values. On one hand, the standards by which to judge the effectiveness of democratic processes were a source of conflict, both in the designation of decision-making authority and in the definition of the constituency. On the other hand, the expertise of conservation biologists was challenged as being a front for environmental interests, a challenge that found support in the fact that what was represented as objective fact actually relied on judgment. While objectivity is likely to remain an elusive goal in future disputes, increased openness and acknowledgment of interest may be the most promising path to minimizing conflict.