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Keywords:

  • public engagement with science;
  • citizens' panel;
  • creative arts

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Uncertainties over emerging technologies and their potential effect on society and the environment often lead to controversy between scientists, policymakers and the public. Opening up the debates and involving citizens and social scientists early in the process of developing new technology is one way of responding to this issue of governance. By doing so, the hope is that the ethical implications and acceptability of new science can be more carefully considered and framed in a responsible and democratised context. To explore an example of aspiration in practice, a series of interdisciplinary public engagement events was organised at Durham University under the title New Storylines for Living with Environmental Change: Citizens' Perspectives. In this commentary we report on one of these events, a one-day workshop entitled Responsible Science and Public Engagement, where a citizens' panel aimed to explore ways of conducting deliberative engagement with scientists using the creative arts and a scientific dilemmas café format.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Scientific endeavour and advancement seeks novel technological solutions to complex problems arising in society and the environment. In the process, new science often unexpectedly produces what could be described as ‘overflows’ and ‘hot situations’ (Callon 1998; Callon et al. 2009), new problems and challenges requiring further solutions and framings. Indeed Hoffmann-Reim and Wynne (2002, 123) go so far as to suggest that the ‘unanticipated effects of novel technologies are not just possible but probable’. Scientific developments in technology offer both ‘promise’ and ‘peril’ (Joss 1999).

There has been high-level international recognition since at least the late 1970s that the public should participate in science and technology debates (OECD 1979), and retaining such debates exclusively within the scientific domain and separate from policy and politics is increasingly recognised as unacceptable (Pielke 2007, 8–21). In addition to scientific and technical critique, the consideration of contingent societal judgments and values must be regarded as an integral part of the process (Macnaghten and Chilvers 2012, 102). This is not to address a ‘deficit model’ or to smooth the process of the public accepting risky technologies, but to involve citizens in the deliberative process from early in their passage to adoption. Wynne (2008, 28) states that ‘in public issues multiple knowledges, reflecting their different sets of priority concerns, are usually salient and need to be respected’ (emphasis in original). There remains a need to see through what Callon et al. (1986, 3) called the ‘opacity’ of the ‘inner workings’ of emerging science, requiring the active engagement of social scientists and the public. This can counteract the ‘exclusionary and socially disengaged policy tradition characterized by invocation of the objective authority of scientific expertise’ (Irwin et al. 2012, 128).

There is reason to be optimistic that attitudes have changed, at least in a British context, enabling science to be opened up to society (Macnaghten and Guivant 2011; van Est 2011). Following influential reports and recommendations from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP 1998), the House of Lords (2000), and the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering 2004), there is now firm acceptance in the UK of the need for assessment and deliberative approaches that can be enacted early (upstream) in the innovation and policy process (Wilsdon and Willis 2004; Macnaghten et al. 2005; Kearnes et al. 2006a; Macnaghten and Chilvers 2012).

The social sciences have a critical role to promote a more responsible emergence of novel science and technology, particularly as we think of technological responses and creating ‘new storylines’ for engaging with climate change (Macnaghten and Szerszynski 2013). Climate change has its own stock of narrative resources and storylines. These have tended to invoke cautionary tales that play on visual images of impending doom aimed to provoke deep sacrifice to ensure survival. These storylines of the environment and of environmentalism are limited and limiting; new storylines are required that need to have the same zeal as the modernist grand narrative of progress.

As Irwin and Wynne (2003, 7) have argued, we need to ‘rethink and reconceptualise the relationships between “science” and the “public” if we are to make progress at the level either of understanding or practical intervention’. Indeed Irwin (2006, 317) sees science–public relations as ‘social experiments in themselves’. Accordingly, the Responsible Science and Public Engagement workshop used a mixed methodology to bring scientists and the public together. Through research collaboration with a citizens' panel (which included three local artists and members of community organisations), the project sought to reconfigure what it means to look at environmental change using different actors, and in such a way as to help inform research funding for the future. Following participation in arts-based activities in a local wood, this event created a Callonesque ‘hybrid forum’, a space which ‘privileges debate, discussion, the exchange of arguments, and the will of everyone to understand and listen to each other’ (Callon et al. 2009, 262). By using dilemmas presented by scientific experts, the workshop was designed to open up interesting spaces at the cutting edge of research, and sought to pay more attention to the social and ethical aspects.

As academics (PR, PM, SB) who attended the event, helped facilitate its creation, and engaged with the citizens' panel in the aftermath, we comment both as active participants and as external observers – from ‘within’ and ‘outside’. Reflections and interpretations from the citizens' panel members (JB, AK, YR, SS, IS) who organised and ran the workshop are also included in this commentary. We focus here on the methodology, and ask whether the deliberative spaces opened through the creative arts have a role in creating ‘new storylines’ for public engagement in technological development and climate science.

Geographies of science–arts engagement

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Innovative public engagements with emerging science are not solely in the domain of Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars (e.g. Latour and Weibel 2005). Although STS has influenced the work of geographers in these subject areas (e.g. Castree and Braun 2001; Whatmore 2009), there is also a developing body of work emerging from cultural geographers engaging with publics in relation to environmental and technological science through the creative and performing arts. This mirrors the increasingly prominent place of visual culture and visual methodologies in cultural geography in general (Hawkins 2012; Rose 2012; Tolia-Kelly 2012). Engagements have not solely been based on the visual, but other forms of sensory engagement have been used in ‘experimental geographies’ (Last 2012a). These encounters bring great benefits, for as Rogers (2012, 60) suggests, ‘the performing arts elucidate much broader concerns about the world we live in, and provide a means by which we might re-imagine it’. Past projects between geographers, publics and scientists include ‘Understanding environmental knowledge controversies’ (Lane et al. 2011); ‘Deliberative mapping’ (Davies et al. 2003); ‘Mutable matter’ (Last 2012b) and ‘Governing at the nanoscale’ (Kearnes et al. 2006b).

In relation to climate change specifically, art has been used as a medium for public engagement with science, and its role has been the subject of critique and debate in the geography literatures. For example, Malcolm Miles considers art exhibitions in the UK and USA dealing with climate change issues, and questions whether art rather than reports of scientific data can change attitudes to ‘jolt [him] into living differently’ (Miles 2010, 32). Yusoff and Gabrys (2011) provide a rich account of the ways in which the arts and humanities are contributing to the ‘social life of climate change’, and to an imagination of living with climate change. Further, Gabrys and Yusoff 2012, 19), engaging with the literatures of Stengers and Rancière, suggest that arts–science discourses can bring about encounters on the politics of climate science for they explore the ‘making, imagining, contesting, and living of shared material and affective worlds’. Responsible Science and Public Engagement adds to these geographical encounters at the meeting of the arts and science, and provides novel twists in the site of the engagement and the privileging of the citizens rather than academics or scientists in setting the agenda.

Translations

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The Responsible Science and Public Engagement workshop was introduced by a member of the citizens' panel, who reminded participants of the context: ‘the importance of explaining, protecting and serving the environment’. Participants then walked from the conference venue to local woodland, ‘… where [they] were encouraged to consider the place where they were standing …’ All were given a handcrafted booklet consisting of artwork and historical maps of the woodland to provoke a sense of what had gone before and what needed to be protected for the future. A series of performative tasks in the woodland was designed to encourage members of the group to treat each other as equals and with mutual respect. The project's associate artist read her own short story Conversation of the trees, and this was followed by a time of silence for the participants to reflect on the sensations and emotions aroused in the surroundings of the trees. The next task involved passing a cupped handful of leaves collected from the forest floor from person to person, aiming to return as many of them as possible to the spot they originated from. The passing of the leaves task emphasized the sense of shared responsibility of ‘handing the earth on’ and ‘treading lightly’. The artist who prepared the exercise described her rationale:

I was inspired with an image of a group of people ‘getting their hands dirty’ as it were – outside, in the ‘natural’ environment – and doing a group task of some kind, which would serve as a kind of inclusive leveller … as a way of sharing the issues in a sensory way which might provoke feelings and understanding of the issues involved, without having to have a meeting about it, or write a paper.

There was an opportunity to trace ‘nature’ onto paper using charcoal, making impressions of tree bark or leaves. Finally, vocalising emotions, sharing words which summed up the sensory experiences in the woods – for example, ‘majesty’, ‘peace’, ‘regeneration’, ‘becoming’, ‘fragility’ and ‘light’. According to the same artist, the morning session had succeeded in ‘do[ing] something which I think art does best, which is to provoke, to stimulate, to look further, observe, consider and question, to be critical, to have an experience, to be touched in some way’.

The stage had been set for debate in the afternoon scientific dilemmas café: ‘It was agreed that we would invite eminent scientists to come and bare their souls; to present to the audience a current moral dilemma that they were experiencing in their work’ (panel member). The dilemmas were as follows:

  1. How can academic scientists retain independence and integrity in energy technology research when parties with a commercial interest fund the research?
  2. Why is there rapidly advancing innovation in certain areas of technology (e.g. communications), but not in other areas? What drives innovation in technology, and how can we speed innovation in areas where it currently lags?
  3. What is the role of upstream public engagement in deciding where to prioritise and allocate research funding for new technologies?

A series of translations (Callon et al. 2009; Irwin et al. 2012) had occurred – from conference room to forest floor and back; from performance to debating chamber; from the practice of the creative arts to the deliberation of science. The scientists had been translated from the research ‘laboratory’ to the performative stage; the citizen artists moved from their stage into the world of scientific discovery. But perhaps the two stages were not so far apart: science has its own performative stage (Hilgartner 2000).

Sensory engagements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The activities in the forest brought participants up close to nature, and provided a Heideggerian experience of Dasein, ‘Being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger 1962, 78–107), which situated and contextualized the dilemmas café. It engendered thoughts of Heidegger's Buan and bauen in relation to the environment: ‘The way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan, dwelling … bauen … means … to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for …’ (Heidegger 1971, 147). Touching and passing on the detritus of the forest floor; dirty hands; slipping and sliding down muddy pathways; smelling trees and fresh air; watching sunbeams stream between the leaves and branches; hearing new-born lambs bleat at the forest's edge; a breeze against the face: these were a powerful evocation and embodiment of a sense of being and dwelling in the world, and feeling a responsibility of care. Considering ‘feeling’ in the context of art and aesthetics, Ingold (2000, 23) speaks of it as ‘a mode of active, perceptual engagement, a way of being literally “in touch” with the world’. In the setting of a woodland, bursting forth in the new regenerating life of spring, the citizens' panel had perhaps created what Anderson (2000, 116) termed a ‘sentient ecology’, a ‘mutual interrelation between person and place’. The artists' choice of the wood as the site for the introductory engagements with the scientists resonates with Brace and Geoghegan's (2010) assertion that the importance of landscape and lay knowledges are connected in lay framings of understanding climate change. It was a coming together of human and non-human, animate and inanimate, reflecting the connection between ‘human and non-human lifeworlds in a shared experience of climatic change’ (Yusoff 2010, 75). It also crucially bonded human with human, and despite only having met minutes before, there seemed a common link through shared experience and ‘sense of the common’ (Latour 2004, 182). The citizens' panel members felt connected to the scientists in a way they had perhaps not anticipated:

We were worried whether academics and researchers would take part and take it seriously. Yet the value of getting out into the environment, listening and responding to it as a group proved a valuable ice-breaker, and the communal experience opened everyone up to thinking about problems and solutions in a freer way. It connected us together at a very human level before we engaged with the cerebral challenges of dilemmas facing scientists. (Panel member)

‘Truth’ and ‘trust’ emerged as key themes in the discussions. Engdahl and Lidskog (2012, 12) speak of how ‘trust is created when citizens are emotionally involved, take part, have a say, and in some sense are able to recognise themselves in the recipient of their trust. Trust is not only relational, but also emotional.’ Trust is recognised as an important facet of lay knowledge, and is weaved together with values and perceptions to form a knowledge which is different, but not inferior, to expert knowledge (Bucchi and Neresini, 2008). The activities in the wood had created a feeling of empathy towards the scientists in their dilemmas, and rather than scientists or institutions shaping power relations (Leach et al. 2005), the citizens' panel had created the openings for creative engagement. Hiking boots and black leather shoes, khakis and dark suits, all intermingled and shared a self-reflexive experience in the wood, which removed barriers and promoted a strong sense of a shared humanity, despite perceptions of power and positionality at the outset. There was a strong sense of co-responsibility in coping with the ethical dilemmas of emerging technologies and uncertainties over the future, with a positive will to move forward together rather than divided into established bunkers of ‘science’ versus the ‘public’. The citizens' panel viewed the scientists as courageous for being willing to step into ‘their’ world, and barriers of mistrust and fear were broken down. As Callon (1999) suggests, hybrid forums can produce and negotiate new identities.

Saunders and Moles (2013, 23) suggest that too often ‘attentiveness to the “placing” and “spacing” of our public engagement practices’ is ignored in studies of science communication. Furthermore, given the importance of ‘the workings of social relations in space and the politics and poetics of place-based identities’ (Geoghegan and Leyson 2012, 55) in constructions of climate change, it would have been interesting to have conducted the dilemma discussions in the forest to avoid disjuncture between the scenes of engagement.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

There is an ongoing need to provide new storylines and methodologies to bring scientists and the public together in a positive vision of the future, with a sense of our common humanity as we face future climate change challenges. In doing so, new synergies between expert and lay knowledge will be created, producing ‘other ways of knowing’ (Leach et al. 2005). The Responsible Science and Public Engagement workshop demonstrated that using the skill sets and artistic talents of citizens can make inroads into producing ‘good dialogue’ (Callon et al. 2009; Sykes and Macnaghten 2013, 101) – rich and meaningful sensory engagements with science around emerging technology, upstream, and from the ground up. The workshop provided an answer to Pickering's question of ‘how, literally or metaphorically, to bring scientists, politicians, and citizens together on a single and level playing field, on which the expertise and interests of none of these groups necessarily trumps that of the others’ (Pickering 2010, 393).

There is reason to celebrate the fact that cultural geographers and STS scholars are engaging with publics and scientists who share their concern to create new storylines for environmental change. The ‘cultural turn in climate change’ (Yusoff and Gabrys 2011, 517) has much to offer at the juncture between science, policymakers and citizens, and culturally attuned citizens have much to contribute. The creative arts are certainly a powerful medium for embodied sensory engagement and reflexivity, and we echo Crang's (2003, 501) call for qualitative research ‘to push further into the felt, touched and embodied constitution of knowledge’. As Davies (2011, 324) affirms, ‘those interested in public views – including policymakers and leader writers for Nature – should welcome the unique insights that engagement with the realm of the fictional, creative and emotive offers’. The challenge remains how to move beyond one-off engagements events, valuable as they are, to ensure that upstream public engagement is embedded in the future governance of scientific research and responsible innovation (Sykes and Macnaghten 2013). With this end in mind, the citizens' panel at Durham is continuing its work beyond the series of engagement events to play an integral role in working with scientists in the University.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

We are grateful to the Institute for Advanced Study and School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, and Beacon North-East for funding the work on which this commentary is based. The events were organised through the Centre for Community Action and Social Justice, Durham University, and we would like to thank all participants, particularly members of the citizens' panel for their role in organising the event, and the scientists who presented their dilemmas. The citizens' panel members were: Janie Bickerstaff, John Brown, Angela Kennedy, Yvonne Richardson, Sue Shaw and Ingrid Sylvestre. We also thank the Editor and an anonymous reviewer for their very helpful comments.

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  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Geographies of science–arts engagement
  5. Translations
  6. Sensory engagements
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
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