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In recent years, whether at the local, national or even international level, projects and decisions, both private and public, seem to be increasingly contested (Gendron, 2014). It is in this context marked by the multiplication of controversies that the idea of social acceptability has emerged, which expresses the judgement of populations regarding the policies or projects proposed by decision-makers and promoters. The concept is still not stabilized in the scientific field. Thus it is often mobilized by decision-makers in order to “get their projects accepted” and remains criticized (Boissonade et al., 2016). Several researchers have nevertheless contributed to better circumscribing it and making it a real management, governance and communication issue (Baba & Raufflet, 2015; Fortin & Fournis, 2013; Yates & Caron, 2012). Let us mention at the outset that we are approaching projects by transcending the traditional opposition between the private and the public, to emphasize that both public and private actors make decisions that impact the lives of populations and cause structuring effects on social organization. They are therefore both public in nature.
Today, it is considered that the popular judgment reflected in social acceptability is dependent on a social construction process through which a project is evaluated. This evaluation is often an opportunity to formulate alternative solutions or to recall the attachment to the status quo (Gendron, 2014). This judgment is dynamic and can be transformed according to social debates, issues and values change (Gendro…


The construction of social acceptability, conceived as the collective judgement of populations regarding a given policy or project, is sometimes based on the participation of the social actors concerned in the discussions that inform public decision-making. Intermediary democratic bodies where various participatory mechanisms are deployed thus play a key role in the emergence of acceptability. However, the question of the effects of participatory processes on the dynamics of social acceptability remains little studied today, either by research on social acceptability or by research on public participation. Based on projects that raise environmental concerns, this special issue draws on the intersection of these two theoretical fields in order to analyze the impact of participatory democracy mechanisms on decision-making and the construction of social accessibility. The contributions thus make it possible to reflect on the way in which intermediary democratic bodies contribute or not to social acceptability. More specifically, they explore the institutionalization of the concept as a new public management standard, the effects of the participatory processes deployed in these forums on the acceptability of a given project, as well as the effects on final decisions. In short, the reflection proposed in this issue makes it possible to see to what extent participatory mechanisms offer the conditions for a constructive debate that can better channel the societal conflicts that certain industrial projects or public policies generate, in order to build compromises that are projected into a future vision of development.

  • social acceptability
  • participatory democracy
  • public participation
  • environmental controversies
  • public decision-making

L’acceptabilité sociale, une question de démocratie participative ?

La construction de l’acceptabilité sociale, conçue comme le jugement collectif des populations à l’endroit d’une politique ou d’un projet donné, s’appuie parfois sur la participation des acteurs sociaux concernés aux discussions éclairant la prise de décision publique. Les instances de démocratie intermédiaires où sont déployés divers dispositifs participatifs jouent ainsi un rôle de premier plan quant à l’émergence de l’acceptabilité. Or, la question des effets des processus participatifs sur les dynamiques d’acceptabilité sociale demeure aujourd’hui peu étudiée, que ce soit par les travaux sur l’acceptabilité sociale ou ceux portant sur la participation publique. À partir de projets soulevant des préoccupations de nature environnementale, ce numéro spécial puise à l’intersection de ces deux champs théoriques en vue d’analyser l’impact des dispositifs de démocratie participative sur la prise de décision et la construction de l’accessibilité sociale.
Les contributions permettent ainsi de réfléchir à la façon dont les instances de démocratie intermédiaires contribuent ou non à l’acceptabilité sociale. De manière plus spécifique, elles explorent l’institutionnalisation du concept comme nouvelle norme de gestion publique, les effets des processus participatifs déployés dans ces instances sur l’acceptabilité d’un projet donné, de même que les effets sur les décisions finales. En somme, la réflexion proposée dans ce numéro permet de voir dans quelle mesure les dispositifs participatifs offrent les conditions d’un débat constructif permettant de mieux canaliser les conflits sociétaux que suscitent certains projets industriels ou politiques publiques, en vue de construire des compromis qui se projettent dans une vision d’avenir du développement.

  • acceptabilité sociale
  • démocratie participative
  • participation publique
  • controverses environnementales
  • prise de décision publique
Alice Friser
An anthropologist by training, Alice FRISER is a professor in the Department of Management at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. She holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences and a doctorate in business administration from UQAM. Affiliated with the Social Responsibility Research Group and the Sustainable Development Research Centre (CRSDD), the Enterprise and Sustainable Development Network and the Public Law Research Centre, she has been involved in large-scale research for the past fifteen years, which has led her to collaborate with various stakeholders (academics, government, businesses, pressure groups, citizens). In this context, she has worked on the publication and evaluation of numerous articles and scientific research reports and coordinated more than twenty knowledge dissemination events. In 2020, her doctoral thesis, entitled Avoiding Controversy: An Institutionalist Look at the Skills of a Proactive Industry in Canada, earned her the best doctoral thesis award from the International Association of Strategic Management and recognition from the RIODD-VIGEO-EIRIS Thesis Award Jury.
Stephanie Yates
Stéphanie YATES is a professor in the Department of Social and Public Communication at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), a member of the Laboratoire sur la communication et l’influence – LabFluens at UQAM and a member of the Groupe de recherche en communication politique at Université Laval. A political scientist by training (Ph.D. Université Laval 2010), she studies the role of citizens and interest groups in the governance of states and corporations. In this perspective, she studies the media strategies of public and private actors in relation to lobbying, public participation, social acceptability and the social responsibility of organizations. She is also interested in environmental communication. Using an interdisciplinary approach, she has published numerous articles and chapters in communication, political science and management publications. She is also the editor of the book Introduction aux relations publiques. fondements, enjeux et pratiques, published by Presses de l’Université du Québec in 2018.
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