Accepted paper:

Anxious conversations: The role of rhetoric and imagery in defining success in dementia research.


Sally Atkinson (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how scientists negotiate the anxious conversations involved in dementia research and public engagement. I discuss the rhetorical role of images in managing plural perceptions of scientific success and failure.

Paper long abstract:

As advances in current scientific knowledge expand rather than resolve the complexity of developing effective dementia treatments, an elaborate and strategic use of image and imagery in public-science discourse becomes a tool for managing anxieties, and promoting future research support. Creative practices mobilize a reflexive and adaptive discourse affecting change in research practice.

Based on ethnographic research within a UK dementia research community, this paper explores scientists' rhetorical use of images to creatively manage anxieties emerging in the relationships between scientists, patients and publics in dementia research.

In the fierce competition for social, political and economic support for disease research, dementias are increasingly characterized as a leading public health issue of our time; placing researchers at the forefront of public debates on how to live with, understand and treat dementias.

The scientific community are keenly aware that success depends on attracting researchers, funding and participants, whilst at the same time managing the uncertainties around the outcomes, benefits and expectations of clinical research. These uncertainties manifest in anxious conversations between research stakeholders around the definition of success in the scientific process.

In managing these moments of tension creative interactions beyond the laboratory demonstrate how scientists' pragmatic engagement with society influences the future of clinical research. This reveals a dynamically evolving research community, whose continual reassessment and questioning of practice is central to the on-going evolution of scientific and social understanding of dementia research and treatment.

panel G56
New Directions in Anthropology