Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Policy Studies

Committee Chair/Advisor

James R. Strickland

Committee Member

Laura R. Olson

Committee Member

Jeffrey A. Fine

Committee Member

William C. Bridges, Jr.

Committee Member

Steven V. Miller


With the USDA’s recent takeover of animal bioengineering regulation, public comments have been reopened about the issue, with the Biden administration seeking more information about public opinion. The debate over U.S. regulation has raged for decades with a pro-genetic modification coalition seeking more efficient approvals and the anti-genetic modification coalition seeking labelling, more open and strict approval processes, and even outright bans. Each side has employed a variety of communication approaches, chief among them the use of narrative.

This study aims to determine how narrative structures affect this debate. Using the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), I seek to examine this issue at the micro, meso, and macro levels. My hypothesis is that there is a narrative effect at each level, and I test this hypothesis with a novel online survey which employs a treatment narrative and measures resulting changes in risk perception, character favorability, and policy solution preference. I further employ a content analysis using the Narrative Policy Framework codebook to characterize the distinctions in narrative use between opposing coalitions. Finally, I present a typological analysis of public consumption documents related to “playing God” cultural narratives.

My results indicate that GM policy narratives have the strongest effect on opinions about policy solutions, that the villain/victim characters are more persuasive than hero characterization, and that US respondents view this issue as global and personal more than national. I also find that the opposing coalitions present the same villain (the government) and the same victims (human health/animal welfare), yet exhibit differing explanations for the positioning of these characters. I provide evidence that each coalitions uses narrative strategies and plot devices differentially, and that the use of these strategies is likely tied to their perceptions as either the “winners” or “losers” of the policy debate, and I show that the anti-genetic modification coalition has more intracoalition cohesion than the pro-genetic modification coalition. I conclude that the concept of “playing God” meets the NPF criteria of a macro cultural narrative and that this narrative has three key elements.

Author ORCID Identifier




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