Science for what public? Addressing equity in American science museums and science centers

Authors

  • Noah Weeth Feinstein,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
    2. Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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  • David Meshoulam

    1. Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
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  • This study benefitted from the early advice of Doris Ash, who helped guide the initial framing and design, and from the invaluable expertise of Sue Allen, who provided critical feedback on early drafts.

Abstract

Science museums and science centers exist (in large part) to bring science to the public. But what public do they serve? The challenge of equity is embodied by the gulf that separates a museum's actual public and the more diverse publics that comprise our society. Yet despite growing scholarly interest in museums and science centers, few researchers have explored how these organizations seek to bridge that gulf. Adopting an institutional theory perspective, we argue that equity is a field-wide challenge in informal science education—a challenge that different organizations define and respond to in different ways. We draw on interviews with leaders from fifteen museums and science centers around the United States to examine how equity work reflects emerging norms of practice as well as local influences. Finally, we describe two institutional logics, client logic and cooperative logic, that contain different ideas about the relationship between an organization and its publics. These logics affect both the definition and the practice of equity work. The tension between them evokes a broader tension between dissemination and participation in public engagement with science. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 51: 368–394, 2014

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