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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

The social sciences at ANSES

The Agency is regularly required to work on highly controversial subjects where there are different types of uncertainty (scientific, social, political, etc.). To more effectively frame the context of some expert appraisals and document aspects that may be useful in the risk assessment process, ANSES now draws on the human and social sciences for support with its expertise activities and in its calls for research projects.


Overview and purpose

Social representativeness of expertise at ANSES also applies to the disciplines that are of use in conducting certain expert appraisals. For several years now, the Agency has been drawing on the human and social sciences (HSS) for certain issues. This takes the form of:

  • Internal expertise (mainly driven by the Risks & Society unit), 
  • External expertise (by mobilising experts in these disciplines for certain working groups),
  • Academic collaborations/partnerships formalised by research and development agreements,
  • Research in the social sciences funded by ANSES calls for projects. 
  • A network of social scientists working for or with counterpart agencies in Europe. (Visit the Paris Risk Group website)

Various studies in sociology have been developed, particularly through partnerships established with research laboratories and teams. These sociological approaches seek a better understanding of the behaviour and positioning of the stakeholders, the arguments involved, their history and evolution, the conditions of their deployment and their impact in situations of crisis and controversy. They also help to shed light on the critical points of an expert appraisal (e.g. the effects of disciplinary framing on the results of the work, characterisation and evaluation of uncertainties in the assessment process, procedures for validating knowledge and the weight of evidence, strengths and limitations of quantitative approaches, etc.), and on its limits of validity and admissibility. They yield analytical information on “societal” concerns surrounding the health issues, both before and after the expert appraisal. 

Several expert groups now incorporate HSS skills when dealing with particularly complex and controversial topics, such as radiofrequency emissions, nanomaterials, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, etc. To strengthen the integration of these disciplines in the collective expert appraisal groups, which are (and will remain) predominantly made up of representatives of the natural sciences (chemistry, physics, life sciences, etc.), a group of HSS experts (primarily in sociology, economics and law) was established in November 2012. The mission of this group of sociologists, lawyers and economists is to provide analytical information useful to the risk assessment process, from its construction until receipt of its results, and to ensure they are adopted by the various players involved. It will also help formalise the contribution of cross-disciplinary approaches in the Agency’s work.


Find out more

A summarised presentation of the process begun at ANSES to further the social representativeness of expertise was published in Issue 64 of the Hermès Review (in French)


Main ongoing partnerships 

Pragmatic and Reflective Sociology Group (GSPR) at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)

The team led by F. Chateauraynaud has spent many years developing a research programme on alerts, controversies and crises. One of the items for implementation relates to health and environmental issues. As part of this sociological observation programme, the only one of its kind, computer tools have been developed to monitor and analyse the dynamics at play surrounding various key issues. The partnership, which began in 2008 with AFSSET (now ANSES) has documented various issues of interest to the Agency (radiofrequencies, nanotechnologies, GMOs, asbestos, BPA, pesticides, etc.) with the aim of improving understanding of the processes at the origin of alerts and controversies in environmental health, which form the context for expert appraisals. 

The 2011-2014 three-year agreement has three objectives, to be achieved with the help of the tools, data and concepts generated by this GSPR observatory: 

  • to provide information allowing current events to be analysed with a sufficient perspective, in terms of socio-historical comparison and depth, to ensure that the Agency’s channels of dialogue, both internal and towards society and its representatives, are suitably prepared;
  • to clearly identify the underlying trends and cross-functional configurations by showing their impact on public policy;
  • to help explain the conditions behind the production of public expert appraisals and the different forms of opposition, which vary in nature and intensity depending on the levels of involvement  of the players. 

See the reports produced on the website of the Ecole des Etudes en Sciences Sociales

  • "Processus d’alerte et dispositifs d’expertise dans les dossiers sanitaires et environnementaux" (“Alert process and expert appraisal systems in health and environmental issues”). April 2011. Final report (in French)
  • "La dose fait-elle toujours le poison ? Une analyse sociologique des mondes de la recherche et de l’expertise à l’épreuve des faibles doses" (“Is it always the dose that makes the poison? A sociological analysis of the worlds of expert appraisal and research testing for low doses”). April 2011 (in French)


Sustainable Development Chair at Sciences Po

The 2010-2013 three-year agreement signed with the Chair mainly aims to stimulate public debate on issues relating to risk regulation methods involving parties interacting at an international level. A symposium is co-organised annually on topics of common interest and brings together scientists, policymakers, representatives from the voluntary sector and social partners.


Centre for the Sociology of Organisations (CSO – Sciences Po/CNRS)

  • "Operational contribution of the social sciences to expert appraisal activities in environmental health: the European perspective"

This study and analysis work was initiated in early 2011. It has an operational focus (the benefits of and conditions behind mobilisation of the human and social sciences in expert appraisal procedures) and aims to: