Thursday, 7 June 2012

(Re)publics of Science: a new 3S working paper

My working paper (Re)publics of Science: Changing Policy and Participation has been published on the 3S (Science, Society & Sustainability research group) website. This paper emerged out of my reading during the first year of my PhD; in particular, I was trying to make sense of where my own work on public participation in science policy sits in the contexts of decades of academic work and real world developments concerning science policy and its publics. The paper represents an attempt to give an account of developments in the field of public participation (mostly in Western Europe) over the last 50 years, considering the diverse visions of science, scientific expertise and 'the public' which they have brought about and been sustained by. 3S working papers are open access to all and free to download so have a look.

In the paper I argue that visions of publics are brought into being or 'co-produced' with visions of science or scientific expertise. That is to say that visions of one are inseparable from visions of the other and should not be considered in isolation. For example, if we define science as a product of a carefully bounded and exclusionary elite with superior knowledge and expertise, and no responsibility to address a conception of the 'public interest', then the public will be defined as a passive and ignorant group with no influence on (and no right to influence) science or science policy-making. On the other hand, if science is viewed as a diverse and inherently social activity operating within a society with competing demands, expectations and claims to truth, then publics can be viewed as contributing moral direction and, potentially, substantive knowledge to the practice of science and science policy-making. The paper explores these different and evolving visions of science and its publics over the last 50 years through empirical examples including: the anti-nuclear movement; HIV/AIDS activism; Cumbrian sheep farmers in the aftermath of Chernobyl; and planning conflicts.

Knowledge controversies, social movements and growing institutional distrust amongst publics have prompted an explosion in the adoption of participatory methods and rhetoric in science policy and governance in Western Europe and North America since the late 1990s. Yet the paper also highlights how the seeming institutionalisation and acceptance of participation has also been accompanied with a wave of critiques of participation theory and practice. These are concerned, for example, with the potential of participation to manipulate and oppress, the unwise promotion of certain norms like consensus, and time and resource constraints of carrying out participation processes. However,  recently a more critical public engagement literature has emerged, seeking to be constructively critical of participation and to promote broader innovation around particpiatory governance. The paper describes the current scope of this new literature and then offers suggestions for its future direction and policy influence.

Like any working paper, this argument is very much a work in progress and concerns themes which I will be developing over the next few years. Any comments, criticisms, conversations more than welcome!

1 comment:

  1. Great post. This article is really very interesting and enjoyable. I think its must be helpful and informative for us. Thanks for sharing your nice post about a new 3S working paper .
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