Unleashing Science Popularisation: Studies on Science as Popular Culture
This thesis aims to broaden the concept of science popularisation. It argues that the conventional view of popularisation as the public communication of appropriately simplified versions of established facts to lay audiences fails to capture the multifaceted nature of popularisation practices through which science and popular culture are recombined. Drawing on perspectives from Science and Technology Studies and from Cultural Studies a number of case studies are presented in order to explore anew what can be analytically treated as science popularisation and where popularisation begins and ends. The thesis commences by critically interrogating the conventional view of popularisation as a way to enhance public understanding and appreciation of science in society. This thesis argues that science popularisation needs to be thought of as a meaning making process that is far more diverse and complex than the conventional view acknowledges. It is a field where much more than the understanding or misunderstanding of established scientific fact is at stake. To extend the conventional view of popularisation, both science and popular culture are discussed in relation to constructivist theories and perspectives. For science, this means an emphasis on contingency in knowledge production where scientific practices are deprived of their ‘specialness’ and are considered more similar than different to other forms of ordinary human action. Thus, the strength and durability of particular scientific facts becomes worthy of empirical investigation dedicated to mapping the specific, local causes of credibility. Similarly, popular culture has been highlighted in Cultural Studies in opposition to conservative views offering cultural status to only a small selection of works deemed more valuable than others. Instead Cultural Studies scholars have argued for an anthropological concept of culture emphasising meaning making processes and the very distinction between fine arts and ordinary culture as objects of study. From these two traditions the thesis borrows a set of theoretical and methodological tools to examine the meaning of science in popular culture. Four studies have been carried out promoting an expanded concept of science popularisation. In ”The First Swede in Space” the character and orientation of the conventional view of popularisation is explored in relation to the attention given to Sweden’s first astronaut launched into space in 2006. The article is especially concerned with discussing how the astronaut achieves his elevated position as an ideal populariser and spokesperson for science. In “Food Fight!” the strict division between knowledge production and dissemination implicit in the conventional view of science popularisation is problematised. It is argued that while this division is designed to buttress the authority of science in society, it also leaves popularisation to ‘capture’ by skilled communicators. To illustrate this point the relative success of the proponents of a low-carb diet revolution in Sweden at bringing into question the authority of national recommendations on nutrition is analysed. In “The Advanced Liberal Logic of Nicotine Replacement”, the idea that science popularisation is just as likely to come before as after the establishment of scientific fact is explored further with reference to changing understandings of, and approaches to dealing with, the health consequences of smoking. The study details how a number of Swedish and British researchers launched nicotine replacement as a popular and credible way to ‘treat’ smoking authoritatively reimagined and reconstructed as a problem of nicotine addiction. “Genetik i fiktion”, finally, was written as a licentiate thesis and published in Swedish in 2006. It explores how genetics and gene technology are used as a narrative tool in a number of fictitious narratives. In relation to pedagogical worries about the corrupting influence of fiction on scientific understandings, genetics as a narrative theme is explored as a theme worthy of reflection in its own right. Genetics emerge from the analysis as something of a narrative utility tool suitable for discussing science as well as enhancing the credibility of the fantastical.
Parts of work
Andreas Gunnarsson (2009): ’The First Swede in Space: The Making of a Public Science Hero’, Culture Unbound, Volume 1: 137–159.Andreas Gunnarsson & Mark Elam (2012): ’Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat (LCHF) Movement and the Turning of Science Popularisation Against the Scientists’, Science as Culture, DOI:10.1080/09505431.2011.632000Mark Elam & Andreas Gunnarsson (2012): ’ The Advanced Liberal Logic of Nicotine Replacement’ in Bent Larsson, Martin Letell & Håkan Thörn (eds.) Transformations of the Swedish Welfare State: From Social Engineering to Governance?, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.Andreas Gunnarsson (2006): Genetik i fiktion, Tema kultur och samhälle skriftserie 2006:2, Liu-tryck, Linköping
Doctor of Philosophy
Göteborgs universitet. Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten
University of Gothenburg. Faculty of Social Sciences
Department of Sociology. Science and Technology Studies ; Sociologiska institutionen. Avdelningen för teknik- och vetenskapsstudier
Fredagen den 20 april 2012, kl. 13.15, Hörsalen Sappören, Sprängkullsgatan 25.
Date of defence
public understanding of science
science and the media
STS Research Reports
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