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Science, scientism and imaginaries of publics in the UK: passive objects, incipient threats

Welsh, Ian and Wynne, Brian 2013. Science, scientism and imaginaries of publics in the UK: passive objects, incipient threats. Science as Culture 22 (4) , pp. 540-566. 10.1080/14636778.2013.764072

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Two-way public engagement with science is an important modern democratic practice that paradoxically coincides with the intensifications of state surveillance and policing of publics and social movements engaging with issues involving science. This raises important questions about the contemporary anatomies of publics, and what count as legitimate expressions of public concern over scientific stakes within the knowledge economy. Implicit in the tension between inclusion and surveillance are concerns over the social meaning and authority of science amongst both scientific practitioners and publics. Bringing science and technology studies (STS) and social movement studies (SMS) into dialogue offers a means to explore the neglected ontological stakes in the framing of scientific imaginaries of publics, and public imaginaries of science. Post-WWII UK science–publics relations have emerged in three significant modalities, with publics imagined: as passive non-entities, circa 1950–1990 (continuing); as incipient threats due to presumed deficits in their grasp of science 1990–2000 (continuing); and, since circa 2000, as politicised threats requiring state control. Each modality is shaped by elite denial of the normative commitments embedded within science as surrogate politics—scientism. In each mode, scientistic elite emphasis on epistemic issues forecloses engagement with broader public meanings expressing legitimate normative and ontological differences. Fusing the more epistemic focus of STS with SMS's emphasis on meaning and democratic process offers a route to deeper democratic forms of public engagement with what is called science, which would also precipitate more accountability in elite discourses around science and technology.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 0950-5431
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2020 01:52

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