Social exclusion in public engagement with science
On Monday last week I gave a presentation as part of the ‘Engaging Research’ seminar series being run at the Open University (as you might have guessed since this is their blog!) The seminar series runs in conjunction with two RCUK-funded projects: ‘An open research university‘; and ‘Engaging opportunities‘.
My research interests are around who ‘counts’ as a public for so called ‘public’ engagement and how do engagement practices contribute to the exclusion of certain groups.
My research asks questions like these:
- Who is public engagement with science (PES) for?
- Whose stories, culture and communities are represented through public engagement with science?
- When we think about and write about understanding science as part of culture, or indeed, work towards mainstreaming science ‘as culture’ through our science engagement, communication, policy and education projects, whose culture is privileged?
Put another way, what might it feel like to be ‘othered’ by public engagement with science? For example, we know from an analysis of the UK science education community that informal science learning opportunities tend to cluster around certain audiences, namely those who are already more socially advantaged. So what about everyone else?
I used an analysis of some research I’d carried out with community groups in London to try and explain how I thought exclusion manifested through engagement practices. I focused on the kinds of public engagement with science offered by science museums and science centres. I was trying to apply ideas from critical pedagogy (for example, the work of bell hooks, which always reminds me to think beyond learning and take power into account) to learning and engagement.
See what you think – the video is below. And if you haven’t got time to watch the whole thing, the session abstract is below too.
Let me know what you think on Twitter at @emilyadawson
How to lose publics and alienate people: Social exclusion in public engagement with science
Concerns about participation in science engagement, communication and education have typically been framed in terms of ‘barriers’ to participation. Such barriers include cost, location and interest in science. Doubtless barriers affect participation, but by foregrounding a focus on single barriers, questions of complexity, power, dominance and domination recede into the background.
This paper explores the question of exclusion and non-participation in one area of science engagement; informal science learning. Informal science learning environments (ISLEs) such as science museums, science centres, zoos, botanic gardens, aquaria and science festivals are significant features in the science communication and engagement landscape. Not everyone, however, may perceive ISLEs as offering valuable experiences and not all visitors may experience the same benefits. Instead, as I argue in this paper, attitudes towards and experiences of ISLES may differ in ways that are inequitable and, as this study suggests, marked by social positions such as ethnicity and class.
Drawing on research with four community groups and their visits to three different ISLEs, this paper uses theoretical concepts from Bourdieu to examine how social exclusion and non-participation happens in practice during ISLE visits.
Fantastic talk! Some similar issues are raised in this recently published article (e.g. school experiences with museums leading to bad perceptions):