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Mediating Science and Society in the EU and UK: From Information-Transmission to Deliberative Democracy?

Abstract

In this paper we critically review recent developments in policies, practices and philosophies pertaining to the mediation between science and the public within the EU and the UK, focusing in particular on the current paradigm of Public Understanding of Science and Technology (PEST) which seeks to depart from the science information-transmission associated with previous paradigms, and enact a deliberative democracy model. We first outline the features of the current crisis in democracy and discuss deliberative democracy as a response to this crisis. We then map out and critically review the broad outlines of recent policy developments in public-science mediation in the EU and UK contexts, focusing on the shift towards the deliberative-democratic model. We conclude with some critical thoughts on the complex interrelationships between democracy, equality, science and informal pedagogies in public-science mediations. We argue that science and democracy operate within distinct value-spheres that are not necessarily consonant with each other. We also problematize the now common dismissal of information-transmission of science as inimical to democratic engagement, and argue for a reassessment of the role and importance of informal science learning for the “lay” public, provided within the framework of a deliberative democracy that is not reducible to consensus building or the mere expression of opinions rooted in social and cultural givens. This, we argue, can be delivered by a model of PEST that is creative and experimental, with both educational and democratic functions.

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Notes

  1. A clarification of terminology is in order at the start: we will use “public-science mediation” as a generic description to refer to the whole field of activities, policies and institutional spaces that aim to “improve” the relation between science and the public, irrespective of the paradigm or model at work (known as Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science or Public Engagement with Science and Technology). Thus, public-science mediation includes the whole spectrum of these attempts ranging from what is known as the more didactic approach premised on the deficit model to anti-pedagogic approaches that see dialogue as the sole objective such activities should aim at.

  2. Here the use “majoritarian” and “minoritarian” has nothing to do with belonging to a statistical minority defined according to one axis of “identity” or another, as opposed to a statistical majority, though it may coincide with this statistical distribution. We use “minoritarian” in Deleuze’s sense to refer to “a non-denumerable set” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 513) or an ensemble that acts and thinks in ways that cannot be classified or accommodated into the existing dominant norms of political practice, and thus into the empirical gamut of normed political practices. This is what Rancière calls the count of the uncounted: “The people [demos] is a supplementary existence that inscribes the count of the uncounted, or part of those who have no part—that is, in the last instance, the equality of speaking beings without which inequality itself is inconceivable” (Rancière 2010: 33).

  3. More information on Sciencewise can be found on: http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/; and on Beacons for Public Engagement: http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/.

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Acknowledgments

The work that has gone into this paper has been supported by two separate grants, both of which were from the UK’s Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC), for which we are very grateful: Anwar Tlili was awarded a research grant in 2007 under the First Grants Scheme (grant reference: RES-061-25-0039); Emily Dawson’s contribution arises from her ongoing doctoral research which is funded through the Scholarship she obtained in 2008 under the Quota Studentship Scheme (award reference: ES/G018448/1).

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Tlili, A., Dawson, E. Mediating Science and Society in the EU and UK: From Information-Transmission to Deliberative Democracy?. Minerva 48, 429–461 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-010-9160-0

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Keywords

  • Deliberative democracy
  • Public engagement with science and technology (PEST)
  • Public understanding of science (PUS)
  • Science communication
  • Governance of science
  • Pedagogy
  • Information-transmission