Accepted Paper:

The disengaged, non-response and dialogue  


Fabien Medvecky (University of Otago)
Joan Leach

Paper long abstract:

This paper starts with an account of the use of large-scale surveys about scientific engagement and the production of publics based on them (think Eurobarometer ). In such surveys, categories of respondent based on interest or engagement are created, which, as we will show, then produce an array of publics for science.

In the fields of Science Communication/Public Engagement (PUS/PEST), the disengaged has always been a category of interest. Under the PUS agenda, the concern was how to "convert" them. With the focus on dialogue, the concern has shifted towards how to understand and interact with this disengagement (such as Mike Michael's work). But there is a whole other section of the world that fits neither in the disengaged nor in the engaged categories, namely the non-respondants. In this paper we read non-response as an issue that furthers the complexity of understanding these large-scale surveys.

The classic move is to dismiss non-response. This presents a skewed picture of the world. If the concern is dialogue, then those assessed as "disengaged" as well as other assessed categories should sit comfortably; the fact that they are responding to the surveys places them in some form of dialogue with the researchers. The non-respondants, on the other hand, through their lack of interaction, sit outside the dialogue dynamics. But it would be naive to read non-response as non-communicative. Drawing on literature from the political sphere, we want to suggest that non-reponse should itself (at least sometimes) be read as a form of engagement.

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