Accepted Paper:

Cultural Practice and Lay Knowledge: Communicating GMOs in International Contexts  


John Lunsford (Cornell University)

Paper short abstract:

I examine international lay practitioners’ interaction with science communication practices with respect to GMOs. I find lay practitioners’ knowledge of cultural and situational nuance could facilitate adaptation and application of broad approaches to science communication for use in local contexts.

Paper long abstract:

The 1980's and 1990's bore witness to a movement from public understanding of science, concerned with science literacy, to public engagement models arguing for dialogic approaches. Many works in the 2014 special issue of Public Understanding of Science suggest these models reflect needs of academics or policymakers but not the nuanced needs of different publics. Other evidence indicates science communication practitioners hold valuable lay knowledge that can facilitate deeper understanding of situational complexity. I present how cultural perspectives interact with scientific knowledge of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), drawing on interviews and observations with international lay communication practitioners participating in a program on agricultural biotechnology advocacy. I explore participants' interaction with a narrowly-defined view of science and science communication practices and the challenges they faced in adapting these practices to their specific contexts. For example, criticism of GMOs in high-income countries focus on what to eat, while my interlocutors work in low-income settings with fundamental concerns of food security and access - whether one will eat. Many underpinnings of literacy and dialogue models are situated within science communication concerns of European and North American culture. These models offer much to the field of science communication, but overlook the unique contexts that cultural practices and experiences impose on ways of knowing amongst diverse publics. Combining nuances of lay expertise with awareness of cultural practices can leverage the successes of literacy and dialogic approaches by tuning them to the needs of diverse international publics, potentially generating a more robust understanding of science communication practices.

Panel T032
Science Communication