Accepted Paper:

Le Geek, C'est Clique? Meanings of science in online science forums   


Oliver Marsh (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

I examine a corpus of online conversations from science-based forums with varying levels of scientific expertise, using concepts from STS literature and studies of fan groups. I aim to relate what is counted as 'scientific' within talk to themes of personal identity and emotional relationships.

Paper long abstract:

An important science communication phenomenon of this decade is the growth of online forums for discussing science. Examples include the Facebook page 'I Fucking Love Science' (IFLScience), which has over 20m 'likes' and regularly tops Facebook's user engagement statistics, or Reddit threads such as r/science or r/AskScience which offer thousands of users the chance to ask and answer one another's science questions. As with many contemporary 'Web 2.0' sites, these ostensibly provide significant opportunities for mass open dialogues; however features of both communal norms and technical infrastructure shape how and which participants can involve themselves in dialogues, even when traditional offline identity cues are reduced.

My research investigates how meanings of 'science' and 'science person' are constructed on four case-study groups - IFLScience, the reddit group r/EverythingScience, and the XKCD and Skeptics' Society forums. In this paper I will present key themes from across these with reference to both Science and Technology Studies (STS) and scholarship around online fan communities. For example, debates on these groups around 'properly scientific' discussions are familiar from STS scholarship, most recognisably of Thomas Gieryn and Brian Wynne. However science-based in-jokes, meme images, and identity labels are more adequately described by drawing on Henry Jenkins' 'meaning-making' and Nancy Baym's 'informational and performative capital,' developed from studying television and science-fiction fan communities. By combining these perspectives and using them to frame my data, I consider how 'making meanings' of science can be both a definitional and emotional act.

Panel T032
Science Communication