Abstract : It seems that the 1996 BSE crisis has revealed a series of policy dysfunctions (conflicts of interest within the Agriculture institutions, “insulated” expertise) and has generated a re-ordering of the food safety policy sectors in Europe (notably in France and Britain) based on the same guiding principles (agencification, division between risk assessment and risk management, transparency, openness, to name a few). This thesis departs from functionalist and a-historical discourses on policy reforms by holding this conventional BSE story as a policy myth as well as by considering it in its historicity and by focusing on the social uses it enables.
Based on a comparison between France and Britain, this thesis is designed to understand how change is promoted in a policy sector and how it contributes to its existence by enhancing its administrative legitimacy. Rather than taking change for granted, change is apprehended through its symbolic dimension, whose shaping highly depends on the struggles over the sector's domination. These struggles are an integral part of the crisis building, of the policy timing (the “rupture”) and of the necessity of change.
By designing a “transnational comparison”, the thesis also enables an understanding of how the national reform processes are synchronised. However, rather than presupposing a top down and uniform conversion to international “good practices”, it explains the “circulary circulation” of symbolic goods associated to the government of risk through the multiple activities and the social ubiquity of “international brokers”. Imported into domestic spaces, the foreign reference is a weapon as well as an issue of national sectoral struggles. Its translation is significantly filtered by the singularities of the domestic space, hence the observation of a partial convergence between the French and British policy sectors.