Accepted Paper:

Public/publics - Reflections on the multifarious nature of a powerful political actant  


Judith Tsouvalis (The University of Nottingham)

Paper long abstract:

Public/publics - reflections on the multifarious nature of a powerful political actant

Judith Tsouvalis, Sarah Hartley, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw, Roda Madziva, Carmen McLeod, Alison Mohr, Warren Pearce, Stevienna De Saille, Alexander Smith and Adam Spencer

Science-public interactions lie at the heart of STS's deep-seated interest in the dynamics and interrelationships between science, technology and society. This entails the long-standing, critical analyses of forms of public engagement and their rationales, and public rationalities in techno-scientific debates. In this paper, we want to turn this critical lens on concepts or social imaginaries of the 'public' or 'publics' themselves. As well as considering how understandings of 'the public' have evolved theoretically in recent years, we wish to consider the multifarious roles that this imaginary can assume in the shaping of science-society relations, in specific contexts and situations. This reveals the imaginary of the public/publics as a powerful political actant that, depending on the forms and guises it assumes, can, for example, impose boundaries, enable inclusion or effect exclusion, and convey status (eg. 'the citizen' or the 'ignorant mass'). The paper arises from a collaborative effort of researchers working on the Leverhulme Trust-funded 'Making Science Public Programme' and draws on a broad range of empirical cases, including environmental research policy, religious controversies, genetic modification, climate change, animal experimentation, food provisioning, and immigration.

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