Accepted Paper:

In search of an unruly public  


Stevienna de Saille (University of Sheffield)

Paper long abstract:

The idea of science at the service of the public has now been made explicit through the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), which urges public involvement in all stages of the innovation process. Although this can include a call for inclusion of oppositional or dissenting publics, these still tend to be understood as represented by civil society (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Overall, the result has been a systematic exclusion of those deemed not versed in the rules of public engagement - the 'unruly' public(s) of activists, bloggers, alternative journalists, independent researchers and others who have self-educated, on the grounds that they have already formed an opinion which cannot be changed. Additionally, there is a tacit equation of 'unruly' with 'uncivil', suggesting that such publics cannot or will not engage in structured consultation.

This paper draws upon ethnographic research and interviews carried out as part of the Leverhulme Trust project Making Science Public, during a four-day gathering on democratic control of technology organised by activists in the UK. It asks how/ does/should/can RRI engage with and be engaged by unruly publics, how does this particular unruly public understand the concept of 'responsible innovation', and what can be learned for RRI from the ways in which they envision or reject the possibility of democratic control of technological innovation. The result should be of interest to current discussions in scientific policy-making, as well as to STS scholars.

Panel C2
Solidarity and plurality: Dimensions of 'the public' in scientific engagement