b u l l e t i n
Social Science as Communication
Edited by Dr Rachael Kiddey
TABLE OF CONTENTS EDITORIAL 5 2015 ISRF WORKSHOP 7 SOCIAL SCIENCE AS COMMUNICATION
EMANCIPATING SOCIAL SCIENCE
REFLECTIONS ON COVERING THE ISRF WORKSHOP 36 THE SHAPING OF TECHNOSCIENCE
ARE WE DOING SOCIAL SCIENCE WHILE COMMUNICATING? 50
EDITORIAL Dr. Rachael Kiddey ISRF Editorial Assistant
ollowing the third annual ISRF workshop, this year held in Edinburgh, it seemed only correct that the Bulletin should reflect the wide range of discussions and comments raised in response to the workshop theme, ‘social science as communication’. The interdisciplinary mix represented by Fellows made for diverse conceptions of both ‘social science’ and ‘communication’, while the active, multi-media approach to presentations stimulated a tantalising array of questions and comments from audience members. Is all social science communication? With whom are we communicating when we do social science? Why limit communication solely to that between humans? How does perception affect the potential for miscommunication? Are new technologies and masscommunication tools a help or a hindrance in conducting social research? These questions and more are ruminated upon by workshop organisers and ISRF Fellows in a number of ways in this workshop edition of the Bulletin. Steve Sturdy, Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh and co-organiser of the workshop, eloquently observes in his reflective contribution that the actions required for the production of social research are themselves communicative and therefore the quality of our work as social scientists relies entirely upon our ability to communicate well. Joel Lazarus takes this point further, in his radical and exciting contribution, insisting that social science should put democratic, dialogical communication at the very heart of its teaching, learning and knowledge production; and he introduces his forthcoming film project which will attempt to do just this.
Issues pertinent to how social scientists are expected to disseminate their work and communicate with audiences beyond the confines of the university were thoughtfully unpacked during the Roundtable Discussion by panel members and ISRF Fellows Lara Montesinos Coleman, Audra Mitchell, Martin O’Neill and Maja Petrović-Šteger, an extract from which is reprinted here. In a separate article, ISRF Fellows Audra Mitchell and Martin O’Neill engage in an informal but insightful conversation around some of the vulnerabilities that exist for academics communicating with students and wider audiences in the digital age. ISRF Fellow David Reece argues cogently that we might think how communication – its style and quality so sensitive to sociocultural politics - affects science technologies. Outlining his ongoing study of rice blast in India, Reece posits that in order for agricultural science and technologies to address contemporary needs, significant social and structural changes may be necessary within the institutions and organisations involved. This edition of the ISRF Bulletin also includes an article written by photojournalist Matthew Smith, who attended the workshop as our official photographer. Matthew has been taking pictures for over thirty years but the ISRF 2015 workshop was the first academic conference that Matthew had covered as a photographer. Matthew’s usual professional stomping grounds have included now infamous sites of political protest, traveller’s sites and music festivals. His pictures have always been about documenting and communicating marginalised and stereotyped social worlds so how did Matthew find the task of documenting – and communicating in visual form – our annual workshop? Find out by reading his reflective written contribution to this issue of the Bulletin. Finally, it is my great privilege to have been tasked with collating and editing this edition of the Bulletin. I warmly invite you to dive into this diverse collection of thoughts on and around ‘social science as communication’.
2015 ISRF WORKSHOP Social Science as Communication Professor Steve Sturdy Head of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh; Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge; Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator in Medical Humanities
hough social research has travelled a long way from its roots in nineteenth-century positivism, the way we think about what we actually do as social researchers still tends to be coloured by ideas inherited from the natural sciences. In particular, we commonly fall back on a set of epistemological categories that implicitly characterises knowledge production as the work of individual minds acting independently of one another. Observation, analysis, perhaps a bit of interpretation: these are commonly represented as the real stuff of knowledge production, in social as in natural science. As for communication, that is generally assumed to come afterwards, once we have produced our knowledge. It is a secondary activity: after all, until we have produced some knowledge, what do we have to communicate? The trouble is, this is not an accurate view of natural science, let alone of social research. Science is a communicative activity from start to finish, and without communication there would be no scientific knowledge. Even the most solitary of scientists must communicate their methods, their observations and their analyses for the critical evaluation of their peers if their work is to be accepted as a genuine contribution to knowledge production. A scientist who does not communicate is no scientist at all. Indeed, science as an endeavour has been constituted from the beginning through specific forms of communication: from the new forms of public experimentation and the new rules of critical discourse
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that made possible the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, to the international collaborations, vast congresses and specialist data-sharing websites that underwrite much of the modern scientific enterprise. The same is true of social research – with the added twist that the very act of data production is often itself a communicative act. Interviews, participant observation, ethnography all involve communicating directly with the people one observes, while what one observes ultimately depends upon the quality of that communication. For the interviewer, the dynamics of power and authority indelibly colour what questions one might ask, and how the respondent might reply. For the participant observer, participation is impossible without effective communication. For the ethnographer, success depends on attaining a degree of cultural competence that can only be confirmed through meaningful interaction with those who inhabit that culture. In all these cases, facility in the appropriate arts of communication is a prerequisite of successful knowledge production, even before one begins to submit one’s findings for the approval and endorsement of academic peers. Seen in one light, this is a commonplace: social researchers have long been concerned about how best to negotiate the power dynamics inherent in expert observation of the social world. But such concerns have tended to be sequestered in a space marked “methods”, inherited from the natural sciences and concerned primarily with ensuring the objectivity and authority of academic findings. Increasingly, however, the boundaries of that space have been blurred by the growth of more interpretative approaches and a concern with reflexivity. Such approaches cast the role of communication in a very different light, raising questions that go beyond simply ensuring the reliability of our observational practices. If social observation is itself communicative practise, how does it interact with the way we communicate with one another as social researchers, and with the wider constituencies with whom we seek to share our specialist insights? And what
PROFESSOR STEVE STURDY
does this mean for the aim and nature of our communications, and for the status and purpose of the knowledge we produce? These were the questions that lay behind our decision to organise this workshop around the theme of social research as communication. We sought to open up discussion about the role of communication in social research by moving beyond talk about methods, and instead reflecting more widely on the character of our communications within and beyond social research. To that end, we organised the second, Edinburghled day of the workshop around two set-piece sessions. In the morning, we brought together a panel of social researchers and broadcasters to discuss the role that social research played in the fervent public debates around last year’s referendum on Scottish independence. In the afternoon, we asked the audience to participate in a practical exercise exploring the possibilities and pitfalls of using new digital media for purposes of social research. In between – the lunchtime jam in the set-piece sandwich – we staged a “communication carnival” of experimental projects that explored new ways of incorporating communicative practices into the research endeavour. Throughout, we sought to address the issues that arise when we recognise that communication is an integral aspect of the work of social research. The morning session approached those issues by considering the role of social research in wider political discourse. Social researchers were pro-active and prominent in the debates around the Scottish independence referendum: organising and interpreting polls, dissecting policies, speaking to the media and running online courses among other things. By putting some of the most active of those researchers on a podium with political journalists and broadcasters, the session provided an opportunity to reflect especially on the relationship of social research to the communicative practices of the mass media. Much of the discussion revolved around the difficulties of working within the constraints imposed by the media’s need to reach a mass audience. The expectations of a two-minute interview culture
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and the demand for readily reproducible soundbites meant that researchers commonly found themselves having to compromise on the more complex stories they wished to tell, and raised questions about whether the media’s pursuit of audience figures was actually at odds with their duty to promote informed public discourse. Researchers’ difficulties could not be attributed solely to the media, however; members of the public, too, often made demands that were out of sync with what social research is able to deliver. In particular, when asked what they wanted from academic commentators, members of the public repeatedly expressed a wish for more “facts” – including predictions about the likely consequences of different political choices – to inform their deliberations and decision-making. For social researchers who see themselves as offering interpretations and perspectives rather than facts or prognostications, such expectations pose a serious challenge: how can they represent their work in ways that will engage public interest and stimulate wider reflection, without oversimplifying their findings or giving them a facticity that they do not warrant? The response from the media representatives on the panel was to emphasise the diversity of outlets for good social research communication. The broadcast media, with their strictly scheduled time-slots, are not the only venues that social researchers should look to. Broadsheet newspapers and magazine journalism provide space for more sustained analyses and reflections. Tabloid newspapers, while usually more singleminded in the viewpoints they are prepared to represent, also offer a valuable discipline in clarity, succinctness and directness of expression that social researchers do well to emulate. Wellcrafted blogs can reach a surprisingly wide audience, and may also be picked up by other forms of media. Indeed, journalists are generally hungry for informed opinion, clearly expressed, and the panel encouraged social researchers to be more pro-active in giving them early warning of new findings or new perspectives that might warrant wider publicity. Political journalists, in particular, tend to be preoccupied with the kinds of short-term
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events that can have a significant impact on the careers of individual politicians â€“ the championing of a new policy, for instance, or the taint of a personal scandal â€“ but that are less important in influencing the longer-term ebb and flow of public opinion. Social researchers can provide an invaluable corrective by representing the world as it appears from outside the media bubble, and by reminding journalists about what most matters to the public. What is crucial is not so much the format but rather the substance of what researchers have to say, and above all the clarity and directness with which they say it. This is as relevant to more academic channels of communication as it is to the public media: whatever the outlet, social researchers should speak and write in ways that are accessible and engaging to as wide an audience as possible. By so doing, we can create the conditions of possibility for forms of discourse that link academic research with public debate and opinion-formation, and bridge the gap between soundbite journalism and more sustained forms of analysis. In this respect, social researchers perhaps enjoy a peculiar advantage over other kinds of experts. Scientists, for instance, typically speak about topics about which non-scientists feel unable to offer informed views. Social researchers, in contrast, usually talk about issues on which everyone feels entitled to have an opinion. This can be a problem: social researchers may be dismissed as merely stating what everyone already knows, or conversely as talking patent nonsense. But equally, it may be an asset: a well-crafted piece of social research may engage readers and stimulate debate in a way that science writing never can. The trick lies in the quality of the communication, and in the ability to talk in terms that different audiences can understand and respond to. Where the morning session was concerned primarily with how social researchers communicate with the wider public, discussion in the afternoon session looked more closely at communication within social research itself. Specifically, it considered how new information and communication technologies are being
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incorporated into social research practice, and what this might mean for the nature and purpose of social research itself. On the one hand, the rapid growth in social media over the past two decades has created a genuinely new space of sociability inhabited by an increasingly large proportion of the worldâ€™s population â€“ a space, moreover, in which even the most trivial social transactions are routinely recorded in what is in effect a vast digital archive. For social researchers equipped with the means of observing and interrogating this space, it provides fertile ground for investigating a wide range of social phenomena, from microsociological processes such as the interactional work of sanctioning and endorsement, to meso-level events like group and identity formation, to macrosociological phenomena such as changes in public attitudes. On the other hand, such technologies also provide new means for social researchers themselves to communicate, be it with their research subjects, or among themselves, or with other audiences and constituencies. Taken together, these two tendencies are opening up a host of communicative possibilities, in which the distinctions between social research and social action, and between expert researchers and lay participants, are becoming increasingly blurred. As a basis for reflecting on some of these possibilities and the kinds of questions they might raise, workshop participants were asked to undertake a short practical exercise. Divided into groups of four or five, at least one of whom was a Twitter user, they were sent into the streets surrounding the venue and asked to send tweets to a workshop hashtag, reporting their observations on certain aspects of the social world in which they found themselves. On returning to the venue, their tweets were displayed on an interactive map of the area, making it possible to follow the progress of the different groups as they went about their task, and to broadcast their observations and comments to anyone in possession of the correct hashtag. The aim of the exercise was not to generate new knowledge of the local area. Rather, it was to encourage the participants to reflect on how their use of a new communication technology reconfigured their role
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as social researchers. In the discussion that followed, it became clear that many had found the experience both liberating and unsettling. The new technology permitted almost instantaneous recording and sharing of observations as they occurred; several groups had posted photographs, while one had even conducted and posted quotes from a mini-interview with a passer-by. But at the same time, some participants questioned the value of publishing such undigested and un-edited field notes: even if text-mining technologies make it possible to interrogate those notes in ways that potentially obviate the need for preliminary editing, they feared that some of the interpretative work of ethnography was being lost in the process. Others reflected on their unease at transgressing invisible boundaries between public and private space: even in a public place, undeclared acts of social observation and recording felt like an intrusion into the private lives of the people around them – a feeling that was experienced most strongly by a group who conducted some of their observations in the vicinity of a children’s play-park. Clearly the ease of observing, recording and sharing social data by means of new social media brings with it serious ethical as well as methodological concerns. And those concerns are even more apparent within the new social spaces created by social media themselves – spaces in which even the most fundamental norms of right conduct and appropriate interaction, and the best ways of policing those norms, are still being worked out. At the same time, it is clear that new communication technologies also offer a whole new range of opportunities for academic social researchers to work, not just as supposedly disinterested observers of social life, but as facilitators supporting novel forms of lay social research and social action. Those leading this session were themselves involved in a number of such initiatives: facilitating “citizen science” interventions around safe cycle routes, for instance; or enabling off-grid electricity consumers to monitor their community’s balance of supply and demand; or looking at how emotionally distressed individuals find support in different kinds of online spaces. But it is important to recognise
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that this blurring of the distinctions between social research and social action does not only occur in the realm of new social media. As was apparent from the variety of innovative projects represented in the lunchtime â€œcommunication carnivalâ€?, all kinds of communication media can serve a similar purpose. Not just online communications such as blogs, but more traditional forms of film and print media, and even such unmediated forms of communication as face-to-face story-telling, can all serve as ways of mobilising and organising social knowledge for purposes at once of academic reflection and community action. In so doing, they take social researchers into areas where they may sometimes feel uncomfortable, forsaking the safety of academic detachment and authority for a more precarious role as facilitators of more inclusive, more polyglot and often more unruly discourses. They also raise ethical and political questions, and confront us with the need to acknowledge and live up to the responsibilities as well as the privileges afforded by academic life and social expertise. But such challenges do not arise solely from the use of new forms of communication; they are inherent in all forms of social research, and we must recognise that if we are to understand our role as social actors. By demonstrating the extent to which social research is communication from start to finish, the workshop opened up new avenues for reflecting on where we ourselves stand and how we should act in our privileged capacity as social researchers.
SOCIAL SCIENCE AS COMMUNICATION A Conversation Dr. Audra Mitchell & Dr. Martin O’Neill ISRF Fellows; Senior Lecturers in the Department of Politics, University of York
AM: Audra Mitchell
MO’N: Martin O’Neill
AM: Social science as communication! We could start by reflecting on the different kinds of work that you and I do and how we are able to communicate with each other, across and between disciplines. MO’N: I think of myself as barely a social scientist at all. My disciplinary identity is philosopher, but I write about political issues that are informed by social science. I guess the same issues about communication come up whether or not you’re a social scientist or a philosopher. Audra, you are a theorist as well, right? AM: I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to theory. I don’t know that I would describe what I do as [social] science either. At the moment my work is quite focused on the philosophy of science and the anthropology of science, so there is that element to it, and [to] thinking about science as a form of communication. But, it’s more the social aspect that is important for me. I’m really concerned with different kinds of communities between humans and non-humans, between different kinds of humans, between different multi-species communities, etc.
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For me, it’s less about the science and more about the communication and the context of communication between communities, which I think must come into your work as well when you are thinking about the various people that are affected by different forms of injustice and inequality. MO’N: Yes. I’m quite conscious of different pieces of writing having very different audiences. One thing I’ve tried to do in my work is write with very different audiences in mind and write in venues that aren’t the standard academic channels. For example, this afternoon, I’m meant to be writing something for ‘The Conversation’, a website that’s been set up at various British universities to get academics talking to broader audiences. AM: There is an issue around the concept of accessibility. It’s always bothered me that there’s this belief that academics live in a different world and that we can’t speak to each other in the same way that we would talk to other people. In fact what I’ve found interesting has been engaging more publically with my work. For example, over the last couple of years I’ve started blogging and also appearing on radio shows. Things like this allow me to view and review myself, reviewing what I’m doing as speaking to audiences well outside academic colleagues. I’ve found that this process has vastly improved the way that I do my work. It’s improved the clarity of my thinking, not because I’m trying to dumb down or make things accessible, but because the act of communicating itself - when it’s verbal, off-the-cuff – communicating when you literally have an hour to write it down and then it’s published on your blog, I think this process really sharpens thinking. There is real value to that engagement that goes far beyond issues around accessibility or technology transfer or the impact agenda. MO’N: I agree with that… it’s a very good discipline to write stuff where you don’t allow yourself the same habits that you might allow yourself when you are writing for a journal. Instead, you are trying to write in a way that every single paragraph is doing
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something significant…carrying the whole thing along. AM: That raises an important point about the vulnerability of being a communicator. When you go out there and speak in public, you are putting your ideas on the line, your reputation, possibly your career. On the one hand, it can be a frightening experience. On the other hand, I think there is something democratising about saying that we are willing to be vulnerable about ideas and open them to critique from a much wider range of interventions. It’s important to keep in mind the element of danger that comes with that, that people will be angered by your views, that your whole life can be changed by having made a statement and then feeling that you’ve either been misrepresented or people’s reactions to that statement have adverse effects in the future. There are increasing demands made of academics to make themselves public - to an extent, their ideas, but I think we’d be naïve to assume that we can present our ideas without presenting ourselves both in the ontological sense but also in the sense that we are people. We love our ideas! They are part of us, they are our identities, and so to have them out in that public sphere where they can be eviscerated or where you are subject to danger, I think is an important thing to keep in mind when considering how we communicate. MO’N: That’s a great point! There are certain norms within academic communication, which aren’t always honoured, but there’s at least some degree of decorum expected of us as academics. I know a lot of people have experienced that type of personal attack. For example, the horrible case with Mary Beard where she was attacked on Twitter. I have never had it that bad but I get a fair amount of abuse on Twitter. However, I’m sure it would be much worse if I were a woman. It’s odd, especially at the start of your career, when you are not used to the process…it’s odd that people you’ve never met, and never will meet pop up on the internet in a public forum to really aggressively ‘have a go’. It’s a very uncomfortable experience.
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AM: So, Twitter…Well, I’m someone who live tweets, with permission. One of the things that I find very useful is that it helps me to really crystallise what I’m listening to, in the same way that good note taking can help students to understand what’s going on in the lecture. Making a very succinct statement about what a person is saying can help me to listen more carefully. The other thing that I think Twitter, and also writing a blog is useful for, is that they represent ways in which I can try to break a little hole in the paywalls. Whether it’s the paywalls of the academic degree or the journal, Tweeting and blog posts are ways that I can allow people to engage with work that goes on behind the closed doors of conference rooms or classrooms. For instance, I recently went to a fantastic seminar in Stockholm. It was an invite-only seminar, but there were many people who would have liked to have been there, and about five or six of us were live tweeting. There are now apps available that collate live Tweets and create a narrative of the entire conference. So people were able to look through these narratives and get a sense of not just one person’s interpretation but this multi-vocal interpretation of what was said. What was interesting too was that many of the authors that we were tweeting about were very grateful to have had that additional feedback and to see, ‘Oh here’s three slightly different approaches to what I said’, or, ‘Here are the points that these people found salient’. I think it’s important to be attentive to the different ways in which we are crafting the messages that we are putting out there. Again, this is why this kind of multi-vocal public engagement is helpful, because it helps me to drill down to what it is that I really want to be saying and how might my different audiences hear that. I think there’s something about thinking of those different audiences that helps to make your work that little bit more collaborative and that little bit more engaged with the world. MO’N: I agree. One big difference that social media has made is that before social media there was the sense of what was
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permanent and what wasn’t. So if you wrote something down, it was sent off, that was one thing, but utterances in public space had this ephemeral quality. The problem now is that almost everything is written down! AM: Another problem that comes up in terms of communicating what we do, as academics, is that we are often told that what we produce is unintelligible. But who are the people with whom we’re communicating? They are everyone from doctors, scientists, space explorers, homeless people, children etc. All kinds of people! I think there’s a risk that academics are treated as ATMs of information or wisdom. Most often it’s expertise or opinion that people are looking for. And expertise and opinion are only a very small part of what we do… Certainly, if you work in theoretical areas like we do, then something that you are trying to convey to students regularly, is that there’s a great difference between memorising a fact or becoming an expert on formulating a divisive opinion and actually doing that kind of nuanced thinking that we are talking about. I don’t mean to create a hierarchy of different ways of thinking and talking, but I feel that there is this sense, especially with the impact agenda, that that’s what we do. We produce these things that are then sold on the market and our value as thinkers is boiled down to that ability to commodify our work as one of those two things. MO’N: That brings us onto the issue of how we communicate with our students. I think we often end up assessing students far more than is necessary, rather than spending time teaching them how to think through ideas. A lot of ideas could be better developed through writing but without everything being about this goal-directed rush - rush to get your A-Levels and then a 2-1. It makes me very uncomfortable that getting a degree is often seen as an instrumental goal-directed exercise that you go through with an eye to the next thing... there must be time to think and write. AM: There is this expectation that an academic is a performer and
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that academics perform in a certain way. This is very difficult if you happen to be a non-paradigmatic academic. Being female is enough to strike that box, being female and a minority, being female and young or female and older, being male in a minority or older, whatever these categories might be…There’s a particular understanding of how an academic should conduct herself that conveys knowledge, a particular cadence or stance. There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that people are much more likely to be critical of younger female and minority lecturers or professors, than they are of white men who are assumed to be in positions of authority and power. So in thinking about how we communicate, it’s not just how you actually perform, it’s also about how you appear. I know a lot of female colleagues who have decided to dress more informally and are older than me, and they are accused always of – ‘Oh you are ugly, oh you are not professional.’ So a woman who dresses informally is seen as not conforming to standards of how she should appear at work, whereas I think men are able to pull off informality and more likely to be seen as the cool lecturer who doesn’t wear a suit. I feel that if I didn’t dress in a particular way I would be given absolutely no respect or authority. MO’N: In philosophy, actually, I think it’s worse than in any other discipline because there’s this kind of cult of the ‘eccentric, unworldly philosopher…’ AM: Yes. The public idea of a professor. MO’N: Yes. So if someone has holes in their trousers and a wacky shirt then, it’s as though people think, – ‘Oh that’s great! They don’t care about how they look… They just care about the ideas.’ Yes, I think it’s easier for men than for women. AM: But it is funny too, because the way that academics are presented in films and on TV shows…well, it bugs me how little effort is made to actually find out what an academic does! If you watch any of the crime shows or the medical shows or law shows,
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they have consultants who say, “Well, this is what we do when we go to a forensic site, and this is how we behave and how we dress, and this is our chain of command.” People write all kinds of films and shows about academics without ever asking – ‘What do you actually do, and how do you dress and how do you act and what is the politics in your department like?’ So, I think these are all real issues and that many people are conditioned to think of academics in certain ways that are not amenable to the type of communication we’ve been talking about.
EMANCIPATING SOCIAL SCIENCE From Monological to Dialogical Communication Dr. Joel Lazarus ISRF Fellow, University of Warwick
n this paper, I begin by presenting what I see as the current hegemonic representation and practice of communication in our society today - communication-as-message. I argue that communication-as-message is authoritarian and monological and serves to produce and deepen what Guy Debord famously called ‘the spectacle’ of late consumer-capitalist society. 1 I then contrast this ‘spectacular’ communication with a radical democratic alternative conceptualisation of what communication could and, indeed, should be for critical social scientists. It is radical because it begins with the etymological ‘communal’ roots of the word ‘communication’; it is democratic because it calls for social science to be founded on a dialogical approach to teaching, learning, and knowledge production. Whereas the objective of spectacular authoritarian communication is social separation, I argue that the objective of democratic dialogical communication must be social unification. I then consider more specifically what the main focus of social scientists should be in our contemporary historical conditions of perpetual crisis. I note that beyond conducting participatory forms of research, a growing number of critical social scientists are exploring possibilities of creating alternative pedagogical spaces beyond the neo-liberal university. These are exciting 1. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Bread and Circuses, 1977).
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developments. They embody perhaps a more Debordian position in which only unmediated encounters possess emancipatory communicative potential. However, I argue that social scientists should consider more fully the dialectical revolutionary possibilities inherent within the very communicative technologies that sustain the spectacle. Here, I bring in the insights of Walter Benjamin who was alert to the democratising power inherent in technological innovation. I suggest that the internet is the ultimate Benjaminian communicative technology, pregnant with the potential to dissolve the social separation between author and reader, or cultural producer and consumer, and thereby fracture the spectacle. However, this cannot be achieved without a conscious strategy of intervention. This point leads me to present my plan to collaboratively produce a television drama series centred on and around the trading floor of an investment bank that seeks to tell the contemporary story of money and the social relations behind it. The series will be used as a way to catalyse a mass public praxis that brings hopefully millions of people into processes of dialogical communication that generate learning, research, and transformative action. The hegemony of spectacular communication Our ‘spectacular’ society In 1967, Guy Debord identified the arrival of the ‘society of the spectacle’ – the society in which ‘the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life’. This (near-)totalised commodification of human experience is ‘spectacular’ because our experience of reality is overwhelmingly mediated semiotically via communications systems. ‘In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation’.2 2. Ibid, p.132. 23
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Crucially, the spectacle is far more than just a ‘collection of images’; it is a ‘social relation among people, mediated by images’. 3 Central to the spectacle’s power is its universality or its ‘monopoly of appearance’ that naturalises its presence and influence and produces a widespread ‘passive acceptance’: ‘The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “that which appears is good, that which is good appears’’.4 Clearly, spectacular society is produced, maintained, and deepened by authoritarian and monological forms of communication. Here, I define communication-as-message as central to spectacle construction and maintenance today. Communication-as-message Communication-as-message is a form and function of communication that is visibly hegemonic throughout our society today. For example, one persuasive reading of the recent UK general election is as a straight battle between two ‘spin doctors’ - the Conservatives’ Lynton Crosby and Labour’s David Axelrod. In an article analysing the Tory triumph,5 The Telegraph uses the word ‘message’ six times, ascribing success to the Conservatives ‘hammering home their message’ and ‘drowning out’ and ‘disrupting’ ‘Labour’s key messages’. Be it in election season or any other time, the message, like power itself, is always contested, both by competing elite factions and, of course, from below. Unfortunately, even those motivated by desires to establish a far more democratic and just social order invariably adopt the communication-as-message approach. As the Global Financial Crisis and, more recently, last year’s Scottish Referendum showed us, moments of systemic existential crisis 3. Ibid, p.133. 4. Ibid, p.145. 5. Steven Swinford, ‘How David Cameron’s Conservatives won’, Daily Telegraph, 8th May, 2015. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/generalelection-2015/11592230/Election-2015-How-David-Camerons-Conservatives-won.html. 24
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precipitate temporary unity within ruling factions as media, political, business, and financial groups align to get themselves ‘on message’. Spectacular communication as social separation Drawing heavily on Marx’s theory of abstracted and alienated relations of labour and commodity production within capitalism, Debord saw ‘separation’ as the ‘alpha and omega of the spectacle’ – a separation institutionalised within ‘the social division of labour, the formation of classes’ that ‘had given rise to a first sacred contemplation, the mythical order with which every power shrouds itself from the beginning’.6 ‘The spectacle originates in the loss of the unity of the world, and the gigantic expansion of the modern spectacle expresses the totality of this loss.’7 The spectacle is also ‘the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence’.8 This combination of the spectacle’s monopoly of appearance - monological character - but fundamentally divisive function led Debord to argue that ‘the spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate’.9 Thus, spectacular communication serves to achieve social separation in myriad ways. As long as the gap between spectaclemediated reality and socially experienced reality remains manageable, the hegemony of spectacular society can remain relatively stable. However, in conditions of prolonged crisis, this gap can grow enough to destabilise the spectacle, and possibilities for alternative, counter-hegemonic practices of democratic communication begin to flourish. The current crisis 6. Guy Debord, 1977, p.152. 7. Ibid, p.158. 8. Ibid, p.149. 9. Ibid, p.152. 25
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has been simmering on intractably now for seven long years. Conceptualising counter-hegemonic democratic communication Democratic communication: radical, communal, dialogical I see the nature and form of alternative, counter-hegemonic practices of democratic communication as radical, communal, and dialogical. Radical communication I use the word ‘radical’ here literally, referring to the root, the origin of a word or phrase. In Raymond Williams’ invaluable Keywords, Williams traces ‘communication’s’ origins to the Latin verb ‘communicare’, which itself derives from ‘communis’, i.e. ‘common’.10 Therefore, the original understanding of the English word ‘communication’ means to make common. However, Williams then identifies a second, later meaning emerging from the development of roads, canals, and railways - that of ‘means’ or ‘lines’ of communication, i.e. the infrastructure used to ‘pass information’. The gradual invention, development, and institutionalisation of what we know today as the media or ‘communications industry’ superseded the communicative role of what today we call the ‘transport industry’.11 For my purposes here, I refer to the original, radical etymology of ‘communication’, that is the participatory act of communing. Such communication is also radical because, through dialogue, participants seek to establish a shared ‘common’ or ‘good’ sense of the root causes of the problems they face.12
10. Raymond Williams, Keywords (Fourth Estate: London), 1976, p.245. 11. Ibid, p.246. 12. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Lawrence & Wishart: London 1971/Elecbook 1999), edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, p.626. See http://www.walkingbutterfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/gramsci-prison-notebooks-vol1. pdf. 26
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Communal communication for our common (good) sense For Debord, revolutionary communication could only take place in the unmediated, direct forum of workers’ councils. I will critique this position later, though I do agree that counterhegemonic communication must be founded on unmediated dialogue. Debord rightly emphasised a philosophy of praxis as the dynamic foundation of these revolutionary encounters, defining them as ‘non-unilateral communication with practical struggles, in the process of becoming practical theory’.13 It is fruitful perhaps to align Debord’s notion of ‘practical theory’ with Antonio Gramsci’s concept of ‘common sense’ or, more accurately, what Gramsci called ‘good sense’. For Gramsci, common sense was a ‘disjointed’, ‘episodic’ body of knowledge and beliefs – a politically contested and, consequently, manipulated institution. Hence, for example, David Cameron’s recent call to make ‘common sense for the common good’ his party’s ‘message’.14 In contrast to common sense, Gramsci identified ‘good sense’ as ‘the healthy nucleus...which deserves to be made more unitary and coherent’. This can be understood as that almost instinctive sense of fairness, justice, truth that we share and can, I suggest, be made known through dialogical communication. Freireian principles for dialogical communication Counter-hegemonic democratic communication is, therefore, radical, communal, and dialogical. As social scientists, we possess the knowledge/power of scientific expertise which we can use, as Paolo Freire argued, either as an oppressive instrument of ‘dehumanisation’ or as an emancipatory instrument of ‘humanisation’.15 13. Debord, 1977, p.335. 14. See Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea, ‘Common-sense neoliberalism’, 2014, at https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/soundings/pdfs/Manifesto_commonsense_neoliberalism.pdf. 15. Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum: New York), 27
Clockwise from Top: Summerhall, Edinburgh; Lara Coleman, Maja Petrović-Šteger & Steve Sturdy in discussion; Matt ffytche asks a question from the floor; Jayne Raisborough presenting her project “Learning how to be old: frames, feminism and the production of a pro-ageing instructional film”
Clockwise from Top: Performance poet Sandra Alland; delegates enjoying the Edinburgh sunshine; performance poet Harry Giles; Jamie Morgan contributing from the floor.
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To engage in democratic communication, therefore, we must, I believe, stay true to the essential conditions and characteristics of dialogue set out by Freire in his masterpiece, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. For Freire, the components of dialogue are four-fold. First, dialogue must begin with love: ‘Dialogue cannot exist...in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love.’ Second, it has to be founded on faith: ‘Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birth right of all). Faith in people is an a priori requirement for dialogue; the ‘dialogical man’ believes in others even before he meets them face to face.’ Third, dialogue cannot exist without hope; and, fourth, echoing Debord’s emphasis on praxis, ‘true dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking’.16 Democratic communication for social unification If spectacular, monological communication maintains social separation, democratic, dialogical communication aims at social unification. Debord highlights the ‘contempt’ that ‘specialists in the power of the spectacle’ are ‘corrupted by’, a contempt that is ‘confirmed by their knowledge of the contemptible man, who the spectator really is’. 17 In stark contrast, Freireian dialogical communication is founded on faith, love, and hope. It is this potent admixture, crucially combined with a praxis of critical learning that can generate a process of the gradual unification of science and society. What, then, does this mean for social scientists?
2005 , p.54. See https://libcom.org/files/FreirePedagogyoftheOppressed.pdf. 16. Ibid, p.91. 17. Guy Debord, 1977, p.454. 30
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Social science as democratic communication The guiding principle and ultimate objective of emancipatory social science research is social unification. Democratic communication is both the mode (the overarching apparatus) and the means (the methods and techniques) of its production. What is co-produced through democratic communication, what drives the process of social unification, is transformative knowledge. Transformative knowledge is produced in the combination of experiential, or ‘social’, knowledge and expert, or ‘scientific’, knowledge.18 Social science in conditions of perpetual crisis Armed with these principles, objectives, mode, and means, how should social scientists respond to the contemporary situation – a situation of perpetual crisis: ecological, economic, social, and cultural? Clearly, a central response must be for social scientists to bring social and scientific knowledge - that is communities and researchers - together to collaboratively articulate and conduct research. There is already a rich tradition of ‘participatory action research’, much of which, like critical pedagogy itself, has been developed in Third World contexts. Bound up closely with such research agendas and practices are recent initiatives to think and act beyond the university. For a small but growing number of renegade social scientists, the university itself has become a hostile site of ‘extreme regulation’.19 In the contemporary neo-liberal university, such intellectual outlaws seek a parasitic ‘fugitives’ within the small pockets of autonomous time and space they can carve out. In an increasingly influential text, Moten and Harney declare that ‘the only possible relationship to the university today is a 18. Anne Hope and Sally Timmel, Training for Transformation: a handbook for community workers, Book III (Practical Action Publishing), 1984, p.42. 19. Stefano Harney and Stephen Dunne, ‘More than nothing? Accounting, business, and management studies, and the research audit’, Critical Perspectives on Accounting 24, pp. 338-349, 2013. 31
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criminal one’. 20 In such conditions, it is unsurprising to see social scientists jettisoning creative ambitions within the university and endeavouring instead to establish new autonomous social spaces, alternative universities even, which seek to bring people from all walks of life into democratic processes of praxis. Such endeavours align, I believe, with Debord’s vision of revolutionary encounters occurring through direct democratic communication. However, there is one other path of democratic communication open to social scientists that, because it is mediated, is fraught with risk, but which I believe is pregnant with immense emancipatory power. Social science, communication, and media The consolidation of the spectacle secured through what Adorno famously labelled ‘the culture industry’ has engendered what Henry Giroux has called a crisis of ‘civic illiteracy’. 21 Yet, the use of media and communication in this way is not inevitable. I posit that Debord seems not to have recognised the subversive, disruptive, and even ultimately revolutionary dialectical potential of the very means of communicative production that create the spectacle. Here, we must bring Walter Benjamin into the conversation for it was Benjamin who most insightfully and most optimistically recognised this potential. While Benjamin saw bourgeois control over the means of communicative production as vital for the objectification and naturalisation of the worldview (Weltanschauung) of the ruling class, he was more hopeful in his analysis of the media, recognising it as a sphere of political contestation like any 20. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: fugitive planning & black study (Minor Compositions), 2013, p.26. See http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web. pdf. 21. Henry Giroux, ‘The Spectacle of Illiteracy and the Crisis of Democracy’, Truthout, 9th December, 2013. See http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/20511-henry-giroux-the-spectacle-of-illiteracy-and-the-crisisof-democracy. 32
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other social institution. Hence, in an overly optimistic analysis of the early Soviet press, Benjamin excitedly identified a ‘vast melting-down process’ breaking down ‘conventional separations between genres, between writer and poet, between scholar and popularizer’ and ‘even the separation between author and reader’. 22 Echoing Freire’s dialogical emphasis, Benjamin concludes that ‘political commitment, however revolutionary it may seem, functions in a counter-revolutionary way so long as the writer experiences his solidarity with the proletariat only in the mind and not as a producer’. 23 Thus, the emancipatory potential of the means of communication lies in the ‘technical innovation’ that makes democratic, that is, collaborative forms of artistic and informational media possible. 24 Benjamin was perhaps overly optimistic regarding the interactive and, therefore, collaborative potential of, first, the newspaper and, later, the radio. Yet, substituting the word ‘newspaper’ for the word ‘internet’ in the following quote evokes a sense of a communication technology that is finally imbued with full Benjaminian revolutionary potential. ‘Authority to write is no longer founded in a specialist training but in a polytechnical one, and so becomes common property. In a word, the literarization of living conditions becomes a way of surmounting otherwise insoluble antinomies, and the place where the word is most debased – that is to say, the newspaper – becomes the very place where a rescue operation can be mounted.’25 In the internet I believe that Benjamin’s hopeful vision can find its fulfilment. Yet, as we well know, though it has had its moments, the internet is far from fulfilling its emancipatory potential and has been used most effectively as a tool of spectacular authoritarianism. What is needed is a more conscious strategy 22. Walter Benjamin, ‘Author as Producer’ in Understanding Brecht (Verso: London), 1998, p.90. 23. Ibid, p.90. 24. Ibid, p.95. 25. Ibid, p.90. 33
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for utilising the internet as the method of and catalyst for democratic, pedagogical communication. Hence, I propose a strategy as a social scientist that brings together Benjaminian hopeful understandings of communication technology with a Freireian approach to pedagogy in order to encourage and facilitate a mass process of public praxis. Banking on democratic television: co-producing culture, cultivating mass intellectuality I have recently embarked on a four-year project provisionally called ‘Banking on democratic television’ whose ultimate aim is to catalyse and facilitate a nation-wide mass public praxis. At the heart of this project is the plan to develop collaborative, dialogical forms of media communication, drama, and knowledge. The centrepiece of the project is the creation of a TV drama series provisionally entitled ‘Capital’ that weaves together various narrative strands that all tell different elements of the contemporary story of money. The actual stories will emerge out of a period of participatory ethnographic fieldwork undertaken by myself and possibly others next year. This fieldwork will inform the production of a script collaboratively written by myself alongside experienced scriptwriters and filmmakers. The goal is to produce a script maximally reflective of the personal and social realities uncovered by the fieldwork. The audience being targeted by this drama series is universal. However, in particular I seek to attract those people who still come home at the end of the day, sit on their sofa, and watch TV most evenings. The series will be accompanied by a website co-produced by social scientists and philosophers designed to provide viewers with the conceptual and theoretical tools needed to develop their own analyses of the drama series. There will also be a campaign to encourage and facilitate dialogue both in online forums and in local book club-style discussion groups. In this initial ISRF-funded year, my main goal is to develop a conceptualisation and practical framework for creating the kind
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of â€˜democratic televisionâ€™, democratic in both its production and consumption, that the project seeks to produce. To conclude, this project is an attempt to develop and operationalise a conscious Benjaminian strategy for realising the emancipatory potential of contemporary communication technologies. Conclusion What I have sought to identify in this essay are the bourgeois forms of authoritarian, monological communication sustaining spectacular society and deepening the hegemony of capital within the university and social sciences. The conditions of capitalâ€™s perpetual and, I believe, intensifying crisis mean that the gap between the mediated reality produced by the spectacle and the lived reality experienced by ordinary people continues to grow. As it does, and as the legitimacy of the social order grows ever more fragile, we can expect two conflicting trends to develop: political power will continue to be exercised in increasingly authoritarian and violent forms and counterhegemonic movements will continue to grow. For social scientists, this means a clear, albeit extremely personally difficult, choice between producing communication-as-message and pursuing and developing theories and practices of democratic communication-as-dialogue. With regard to communication-asdialogue, I believe that there are real emancipatory possibilities in engaging strategically with new communication technologies. To this end, I propose here one such concrete strategy to achieve these ends, namely the unification of society.
REFLECTIONS ON COVERING THE ISRF WORKSHOP
REFLECTIONS ON COVERING THE ISRF WORKSHOP Matthew Smith Photographer
t is not often that I get invited to shoot conferences but working for an organisation with the intriguing title of the Independent Social Research Foundation sounded like an assignment with great possibility and indeed it was. A keen interest in social issues has always underpinned and motivated both my practice and choice of subject matter and as such the diversity of the research subjects engaged with and the self-evident passion and dedication of the ISRF Fellows made it clear that this was no ordinary academic event. Documentary photography requires a desire to communicate and in doing so it also requires the consideration of ideas like truth, subjectivity and objectivity. In this modern digital age it also requires the photographer to think just how the work made reaches an audience. As such, this year’s ISRF workshop title ‘Social Science as Communication’ appealed to me for two reasons. The everyday reality of making images on the ground that communicate is something I’m familiar with but I don’t doesn’t often have the opportunity to engage with academic discussion. This meeting of minds was fascinating. Listening to independent research from economists, lawyers, social anthropologists and political scientists to bio-geographers, medical genomicists and philosophers, to mention but a few, all together under one roof proved riveting and it was far from whatever preconceived idea I had of what the experience would be like, as I undertook the journey to Edinburgh. It’s been difficult to decide just what to
write about in these few words especially in view of the kind of audience that will be reading them! Only yesterday I found a solution. It came from an interview with one of the world’s foremost independent photo-jounalists, Sebastião Selgado. Some years ago I had the opportunity to exhibit some of my work about travellers and protest in the UK alongside Selgado’s work, ‘Terra’, which documented the struggle of the landless in Brazil. It struck me then that the traveller phenomenon in the UK had very similar threads to its tale. It was interesting that, in Britain, Selgado’s work about a ‘foreign’ country could be hailed as a humanist masterpiece with great social relevance, provoking empathy for those engaged in the struggle, while similar struggles by people resident in the UK were not. The struggles of the landless here at home are discussed in our mainstream media in very different terms. ‘Scum’ and ‘vermin’, ‘subhuman with no rights’ are just a few of the terms used to describe landless people in headlines from the newspapers of my time. My point however comes directly from a quote from Selgado: “If you’re young and have the time, go and study. Study anthropology, sociology, economy, geopolitics. Study so that you’re actually able to understand… what you’re photographing. What you can photograph and what you should photograph…and money…don’t forget the money.”1 The first sentence and a half says it all but the end phrase is crucial. Selgado is right that without funding, no-one can afford to make important work or study these issues. That’s what impresses me about the ISRF, that it funds work that might otherwise not take place. Finally, I would like to conclude by saying thank you for having me along and long may the ISRF Fellowships continue as the work undertaken is of immense value.
1. https://medium.com/morning-light/sebasti%C3%A3o-salgado-s-advice-for-young-photographers-today-94d21cb3086f 37
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THE SHAPING OF TECHNOSCIENCE Changing Responses to the Problem of Rice Blast Dr. David Reece ISRF Fellow, University of Lancaster
his contribution should help to elucidate a different kind of communication: the processes through which new technologies may come to possess characteristics that reflect the needs of society and the preferences of those people who use them, or are affected by them in other ways. As we shall see, these processes are indirect while their effectiveness is very variable. I shall concentrate on the technologies used in agriculture, a sector where there is evidence of a profound mismatch between the technologies that are being supplied and used, and the needs of large numbers of stakeholders. What matters, clearly, is not simply that the people who design and develop these technologies know something about stakeholder needs, but that they respond to these needs by doing things differently. In this context, effective communication means providing a message that leads to a change in behaviour: simple comprehension constitutes failure unless it leads to action. As I shall outline, the institutions that are concerned with supplying new technologies for agriculture have structural features that inhibit them from responding to the needs of many of their stakeholders, even though the people who work within such institutions may be very well informed about these needs. I choose to interpret such failures of action as constituting failures of communication.
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Agriculture provides incomes to large numbers of people, particularly in the developing world, but many of these incomes are extremely low. 1 At the same time, it leaves a significant environmental footprint. 2 These concerns have prompted calls for a different kind of agricultural technology, one that would make it possible to meet development objectives (decent incomes for large numbers of poor rural people) while increasing the sustainability of agricultural production. The most authoritative such statement has been made by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, which officially called for a reorientation of agricultural science and technology towards more holistic approaches, after a 4-year process that involved over 400 international experts. 3 What is needed for such a reorientation to take place? Since agricultural technology is produced by a network of institutional actors, we need to consider whether these actors can simply change 1. Agriculture provides a livelihood to almost 1.3 milliard people in low and middle-income countries, accounting for 47 per cent of the economically active population of these countries (figures for 2010 from FAO (2012) State of Food and Agriculture. Investing in agriculture for a better future. Rome, FAO.). However, many of these people are desperately poor: in 2010 about 1.2 milliard people lived in “extreme poverty” (a daily income of less than $1.25 in 2005 Purchasing Power Parity dollars), while in 2014 an estimated 780 million people were undernourished: see FAO, IFAD & WFP (2015) The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Meeting the 2015 international hunger targets: taking stock of uneven progress. Rome, FAO. Over 78 percent of the poor live in rural areas, while a large proportion of them (63 percent) are working in agriculture (World Bank data presented by OLINTO, P., BEEGLE, K., SOBRADO, C. & UEMATSU, H. (2013) The State of the Poor: Where Are The Poor, Where Is Extreme Poverty Harder to End, and What Is the Current Profile of the World’s Poor? Economic Premise. 2. Globally, the food system contributes 19%–29% of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions, with at least 80 per cent of this arising from agricultural production. See VERMEULEN, S. J., CAMPBELL, B. M. & INGRAM, J. S. I. (2012) Climate change and food systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 37. 3. McIntyre, B. D., Herren, H. R., Wakhungu, J. & Watson, R. T. (2009) Agriculture at a Crossroads: Synthesis Report. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge. Science and Technology for Development, Island Press. 39
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direction in order to provide the kind of technology that is needed, or whether more profound change is required, perhaps in the ways in which they are organised and governed. The goal of my project is to explore the ways in which the agricultural research system would need to change in order to be able to develop the kind of technology that groups such as IAASTD argue are needed. In order to do so, I shall make use of two theoretical approaches: technological paradigms; and the Innovation Systems framework.4 I will use these approaches to examine the ways in which the agricultural research system is seeking to control rice blast: a fungus that attacks rice plants, causing a devastating disease that inflicts large-scale damage on rice production. Blast represents a serious practical problem that has been approached in several distinct ways, including the use of advanced techniques that use fundamental genomic knowledge to create new rice varieties (“molecular breeding”), as well as the development of resilient farming systems based on agro-ecological principles. This case-study will show whether the availability of ‘hi-tec’ approaches increases the efficacy of agricultural research, or distracts research attention away from the unglamorous pursuit of simple but effective solutions: genomic knowledge of rice and blast is more advanced than for any other crop–disease system, so this case will reveal how agricultural research activity is likely to change as genomic knowledge advances in other areas. Technological Paradigms Dosi5 , following Kuhn 6 , extended the concept of a paradigm from pure science to technology. In both cases a paradigm 4. Edquist (Ed.) (1997) Systems of innovation: technologies, institutions, and organizations, London, Pinter. 5. Dosi, G. (1982) Technological Paradigms and Technological Trajectories - a Suggested Interpretation of the Determinants and Directions of Technical Change. Research Policy, 11, 147-162. 6. Kuhn, T. S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 40
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serves to focus the attention of the investigator on particular kinds of problems, and on specific kinds of solutions to these problems, while excluding other possibilities. For Dosi as for Kuhn a paradigm determines the field of enquiry, the problems, the procedures and the tasks that investigators will undertake. However, a technological paradigm is a “model and a pattern of solution of selected technological problems, based on selected principles derived from natural sciences and on selected material technologies”. A technological paradigm thus defines an idea of ‘progress’ by embodying prescriptions on the directions of technological change to pursue and those to neglect. Furthermore, a technological paradigm is in part formed and sustained by economic factors such as current methods of production and long-term trends in prices and market characteristics. This means that economic forces, together with institutional and social factors, operate as a ‘selective device’ (selection environment) by influencing criteria such as feasibility and profitability at each level, from research to development. Characteristics of the current paradigm for agricultural research I have argued elsewhere7 that mainstream agricultural research employs a reductionist approach, seeking to optimise the performance of a particular crop taken in isolation rather than that of a system within which various living things may complement each other. A central assumption is that farmers everywhere will be able to “smooth out” the diversity of the world by applying chemicals and irrigation, so that the immediate environment of the crop plant will always be similar to a test plot on an agricultural research station. This means that researchers generally perceive only a limited need to engage with the diversity of the world and provide different solutions for distinct situations. At the same time, only a very limited role is allowed for farmer decisionmaking, on the basis that only clear and simple messages can be communicated to large numbers of farmers and so those 7. Reece, J. D. (1997) Natural Resource Management and the CGIAR System: is progress possible? Journal of International Development, 9, 539-547. 41
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messages need to give clear and simple instructions rather than options for responding to different situations (for example, “spray with insecticide 30 days after planting” rather than “check for insects 30 days after planting and spray only if dangerous levels are present”). This account is confirmed by Vanloqueren and Baret8 , who undertook field research in Europe and Argentina and described their observations of the cultural and cognitive routines followed by public-sector plant scientists. They described these as being assumptions held about agricultural systems and about the nature of innovation that made them look in certain directions while ignoring other possibilities. Central to these was the view that modern agricultural systems require only small modifications, so that there was little scope for questioning structural features of modern farming such as the practice of monoculture and the continued dependence on high levels of external inputs (despite the fact that these inputs are usually derived from fossil fuels). The fact that these scientists are subject to pressure to help certain end-users of their research to solve practical problems means that they need to provide technologies that fit in to the systems that are currently in use, and so have limited scope to pursue more fundamental radical questioning of these systems. Even longerterm research projects were predicated on a vision of the future as the product of current trends, so they assumed that inputintensive approaches would continue to be unavoidable. These assumptions are not compatible with the pursuit of innovations based on agro-ecological principles, and so the kind of work likely to be of greatest benefit to the rural poor of the developing world, and to reducing the ‘ecological footprint’ of farming, is excluded from consideration. For example, one scientist interviewed by these authors dismissed the possibility of using cultivar mixtures to control fungal diseases with the words “it goes against the flow”. In fact, this approach proved to 8. Vanloqueren, G. T. & Baret, P. V. (2009) How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. Research Policy, 38. 42
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be an effective way of protecting rice from Blast, reducing the environmental damage cause by fungicide; saving farmers the cost of purchasing and applying fungicide; and also avoiding the significant harvest losses that sometimes occur when changes in the fungal population mean that a particular fungicide suddenly ceases to be effective.9 In particular, the pursuit of standardised solutions while refusing to allow scope for farmer decision-making and creativity tends to exclude the systems approach that agro-ecology requires. An agro-ecological solution is likely to take the form of a system that has been crafted to match a particular context, and so will be specific both to the place and to the priorities and resource endowments of the farmer responsible. Such a solution cannot be replicated for other people in other places: research can elucidate the principles that explain its success so that people in other contexts may be given guidelines to enable them to create a similar solution for themselves, but design as well as construction must be undertaken locally. This kind of systems approach to facilitating location-specific solutions is particularly appropriate for serving smallholders in the developing world, since such farmers cannot afford the chemicals and other inputs that are used to ‘smooth out’ the world’s diversity so that standardised solutions can work. Given the diversity of agro-environments and livelihood strategies across the developing world, resource-poor farmers are more likely to benefit from research if they are offered a range of prototype products from which to choose according to their needs—a ‘basket of options’, in the words of Chambers10—and which they can tailor to their specific circumstances.11 The ‘basket’ 9. Zhu, Y., Chen, H., Fan, J., Wang, Y., Li, Y., Chen, J., Fan, J., Yang, S., Hu, L., Laung, H. & others (2000) Genetic diversity and disease control in rice. Nature, 406, 718. 10. Chambers, R. (1987) Sustainable livelihoods, environment and development: putting poor rural people first. IDS Discussion Paper 240. Brighton, Institute of Development Studies. 11. Ashby, J. A. & Sperling, L. (1994) Institutionalizing participatory clientdriven research and technology development in agriculture. Network 43
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should certainly include information on the principles underlying successful agricultural systems so that the farmers can combine options in an effective manner, and may also consist of different plant ideotypes, for example, or differing combinations and levels of fertilizer or pesticide applications.12 Such prototype products need to be flexible and loosely specified so that they can be adapted to work under a range of conditions.13 De Laet and Mol14 describe one such flexible innovation and discuss the reasons why it has proved to be adaptable to meet different needs in different contexts, reasons that they explain in terms of the ‘fluidity’ of the product, of its boundaries, its working order, and even of its maker. Such products arise from a way of working that is excluded by the usual paradigm for agricultural science. Innovation Systems A technological paradigm depends upon the organisations within which the investigators who uphold it undertake their professional activities. These organisations may be regarded as forming parts of an Innovation System, itself constituted by the interacting entities that play a role in generating innovation. Most analysts specify such a system as being composed of institution, policies and organisations, while most observers of agricultural innovation (for example Vanloqueren & Baret15 distinguish between publicand private-sector research organisations. Together, these act to provide a set of ‘determinants of innovation’ (social, cultural, Paper 49. Agricultural Administration (Research and Extension) Network. 12. Thro, A. M. & Spillane, C. (2000) Biotechnology-assisted participatory plant breeding: complement or contradiction? CGIAR System Wide Initiative on Farmer Participatory Research: SWP PRGA Working Document. Cali. 13. Reece, J. D. & Sumberg, J. (2003) More Clients, Less Resources: Toward a new Conceptual Framework for Agricultural Research in Marginal Areas. Technovation, 23, 409-421. 14. De Laet, M. & Mol, A. (2000) The Zimbabwe bush pump: mechanics of a fluid technology. Social Studies of Science, 30, 225. 15. Vanloqueren, G. T. & Baret, P. V. (2009) How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. Research Policy, 38. 44
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economical and/or political factors that act positively or negatively on the development of particular families of technologies) and hence condition the choice of paradigm. Innovation system for agriculture It has been argued16 that researchers seeking to address the technological needs of the rural poor need to be well-informed about the circumstances of their prospective clients, which suggests that strong lines of communication between the developers and users of such technologies are an important component of successful innovation. More generally, there is now a broad acceptance that effective innovation requires contributions from a wider range of actors and institutions, not just researchers and their organisations.17,18,19 Institutional links that facilitate continuous two-way communication between relevant actors are likely to play an important role in maximising the impact that technology development efforts have on the livelihoods of the rural poor. A systems approach, emphasising the relationships and lines of communication between these various actors, together with those aspects of the overall landscape that either support or discourage each of these links, will therefore make it possible to predict and explain the degree to which such efforts are likely to succeed. For Vanloqueren and Baret 20, the innovation system serving 16. Reece, J. D., Sumberg, J. & Pommier, L. (2004) Matching Technologies with Potential End Users: a knowledge engineering approach for agricultural research management. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 55, 25-40. 17. Hall, A., Bockett, G., Taylor, S., Sivamohan, M. V. K. & Clark, N. (2001) Why Research Partnerships Really Matter: Innovation Theory, Institutional Arrangements and Implications for Developing New Technology for the Poor. World Development, 29, 783-797. 18. Sumberg, J. (2005) Systems of innovation theory and the changing architecture of agricultural research in Africa. Food Policy, 30, 21-41. 19. Spielman, D. J. (2006) A Critique of Innovation Systems Perspectives on Agricultural Research in Developing Countries. Innovation Strategy Today, 2, 41-54. 20. Vanloqueren, G. T. & Baret, P. V. (2009) How agricultural research 45
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agriculture transcends national boundaries and so they pay particular attention to the policy environment within the EU, arguing that the impacts of these policies are felt globally. They emphasise the strong support for Molecular Biology that has been sustained across the European Research Area, along with the institutionalised division of scientific labour between the public and private sectors. They note that Molecular Biology continues to be important in EU research programmes, so that projects need to include it in order to benefit from these funding streams. As a result, it has become deeply embedded in scientific institutions across the region. At the same time, research work that could be commercialised has tended to be labelled as “applied” and regarded as something for the private sector to perform, while other work is categorised as “basic” and assigned to the public sector. Practical work that does not offer the prospect of private profit, perhaps because its key ideas cannot be patented or otherwise be made the subject of intellectual property protection, is unlikely to be performed by anyone. The public sector no longer includes any bodies with the skills and orientation required to develop a specific new product and make it available to the users to whom it would be relevant. As Stengel et al21 point out, publicly funded research in the UK has always “taken on commercial priorities and frameworks for evaluation” while plant science has historically developed through long-standing collaborative arrangements with growers. However, the private sector has taken on an enhanced role in influencing the agenda for public-sector research (including “basic” research). As a result, the plant scientists interviewed by these authors (in the UK during 2004) talked of being under increasing pressure to demonstrate that their research contributed to the greater public good. At around the same time, however, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) commissioned a systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. Research Policy, 38. 21. Stengel, K., Taylor, J., Waterton, C. & Wynne, B. (2009) Plant sciences and the public good. Science, Technology & Human Values, 34, 289. 46
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wide-ranging review of the U.K. crop sciences.22 While this review called for specific support for research useful to the wider public good, which is not always covered by the interests of industry, it also argued that this work should support and complement collaborations with industry. These developments mean that plant scientists in the public sector have come to pay increased attention to the concerns and priorities of the private sector, a development that may explain the findings on scientists’ cultural and cognitive routines that are reported by Vanloqueren and Baret 23 and discussed above. In addition, the agencies that finance and evaluate scientific research exercise strong influence over the behaviour of the whole innovation system, and this tends to discourage work based on agro-ecological approaches. The ‘low-technology’ character of many agroecological innovations means that there is a tendency for them to be regarded as incremental achievements rather than scientific breakthroughs, so that funding for their development is scarce while the scientists responsible may receive only limited professional recognition. Part of the problem is that this kind of work may be seen as a way of applying scientific laws that are already known, and so not really being original research. Vanloqueren and Baret24 quote an interview with a scientific adviser for a public authority responsible for agricultural research funding; “It is very difficult to finance a research that is not anymore a ‘real one’, i.e. when the scientists have already put into evidence all the scientific laws they could put into evidence, even if that research project needs a large-scale validation”. Conclusions The picture that emerges from this brief review is of an innovation 22. BBSRC (2004) Review of BBSRC-funded research relevant to crop science: a report for BBSRC council. 23. Vanloqueren, G. T. & Baret, P. V. (2009) How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. Research Policy, 38 24. ibid. p. 978 47
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system that is quick to make use of certain kinds of scientific information (in particular that relating to molecular biology) and highly responsive to the needs of private companies concerned with agriculture, and hence to the commercial farmers who comprise their customer base. However, there may perhaps be a tendency to screen out the concerns of other stakeholders while dismissing the kinds of knowledge required to state or to approach these concerns. Put more formally, this review suggests that different stakeholders have different levels of influence in shaping agricultural innovation. Conversely, it suggests that key actors systematically ignore some kinds of information (from certain kinds of stakeholders) while responding to other kinds, and that this behaviour reflects their institutional characteristics. My project will gather field data to explore how these processes unfold in practice. There are three strands to my investigation. Firstly, I shall conduct semi-structured interview with senior scientists working on Blast. I shall use these interviews to explore what factors and stakeholders shaped their projects, asking about the influence of people; of ideas; and of demands from different institutions. Secondly, I shall interview some of the international scientists who took part in the efforts to combat Blast through the development of resilient farming systems based on agroecological principles. I shall use these interviews to ask about the enduring legacy of these projects and to explore why, despite their well-documented success, they have not been globally influential. Thirdly, I shall conduct focus-group discussions with Indian rice farmers in order to explore their beliefs, experiences and practices relating to Blast. By putting together accounts from these three types of informant I hope to be able to elucidate how and why the institutions of agricultural science act to privilege some kinds of information while excluding others. Does this project provide an example of â€˜social science as communicationâ€™? Like any social researcher I shall certainly be communicating with my informants to gather data, while communication processes (and the selective ways in which
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they take place) are a major part of the subject matter that I will explore. I began this article, however, by introducing the idea that a failure to act in response to something that has been communicated to one may be seen as a failure of communication. Part of my role, then, is to share my findings with my informants and with policymakers able to modify the constraints that affect the choices made by scientists. I hope that this will make these actors aware of the ways in which â€œbusiness as usualâ€? disadvantages many of their stakeholders and will encourage them to explore alternative ways of working. If such efforts bear fruit, this project will indeed demonstrate that social science can be seen as communication.
ARE WE DOING SOCIAL SCIENCE WHILE COMMUNICATING?
ARE WE DOING SOCIAL SCIENCE WHILE COMMUNICATING? Edited by Stuart Wilson Roundtable Discussion
t the third annual ISRF Workshop, Steve Sturdy of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science chaired a round table discussion around the theme of ‘Social Science as Communication’. Round Table Participants: Lara Coleman, Audra Mitchell, Martin O’Neill, Maja Petrović-Šteger, Steve Sturdy (chair) From the floor: Louise Braddock, Mark Carrigan, Marilyn Strathern One of the questions raised during this panel discussion was whether one is doing social science when communicating, and whether one is communicating when doing social science. Louise Braddock, ISRF Director of Research, asserted from the floor her view that communication must be more than just a relentless and unreflective projection of information: Louise Braddock (LEB): I think when we are communicating, we aren’t just telling people stuff - we’re all the time gauging how they’re responding to us, what they expect to hear, whether we want them to hear, whether they want to hear what we want to tell them, and whether we want to tell them what we want to tell them given the response they’re going to give us (if we do tell them). So we’re prospectively probing all the time. Our communication with
others is intrinsically investigative - otherwise we wouldn’t be communicating, we’d just be hitting them with something and not impacting on them. We are always seeking a sensitive response. Maja Petrović-Šteger (MPS): One could, however, interpret the question more broadly – it is true that we are communicating, but in very different ways and very different manners all the time. Very often, participants of a social movement, whenever they are consciously communicating with somebody else, label this communication as a kind of social science, as a place from which they can legitimately say, ‘We are doing a social commentary. We are doing a social science.’ I find this a problematic position to take, and it is in that context that I interpret the question: are we really doing social science whenever we are communicating, if by “communicating” we mean communication with broader audiences in different contexts? It might be said that people too often consider themselves to be social scientists, or conducting social science, simply because they think they are communicating. I think that one has also to analyse the communication, and the mode of communication, in order to say that something is a social science. Martin O’Neill (MO’N): On the one hand we have communication where there’s a more-or-less explicit theory of mind of the person with whom you’re communicating. On the other, we have communication which could be likened to just ‘hitting people over the head’: putting out some sort of utterance simply with the wish to put out that utterance. Working from that basic distinction, there’s quite a nice idealised view of what academics do that fits quite well with the hitting over the head model: that one might be driven to establish a truth, that one writes up that truth, and that it is disseminated with that view that if it has ‘impact’, great, and if not, at least one has been true to the investigation. It could be argued that as academics increasingly try to write in a more audience-aware way, that very
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austere hitting over the head model might become less operative. Lara Coleman (LC): In my own practices of written communication, I am trying to get away from those two extremes. When writing about fieldwork, having listened and engaged and attempted to understand other worlds and then confronting dissonance and gaps between theory and practice, it should neither be ‘simply’ an attempt to incorporate and come to an inclusive perspective (or convey someone else’s world) nor should it be about establishing the authoritative position. Instead, it is important to think through the significance about these gaps between theory and practice. Marilyn Strathern, Academic Advisor to the ISRF, and Martin O’Neill discussed the question from a philosophical point of view: Marilyn Strathern (MS): One wonders if the answer might be different if the question were rather “Is one doing philosophy when communicating?” MO’N: Very often what we have when we communicate with people is an implicit model of how they’re receiving and interpreting us - but it’s very implicit and could be seen as a skill or a craft rather than an explicit model that we could describe. So I think good communication is often characteristically quite anti-philosophical. The same could be said of philosophical communication, which often doesn’t have the level of selfconsciousness that it would have if the act of communication itself were philosophical. MS: Could one not make a case for philosophy? If you’re communicating with somebody, are you not trying to establish the basic categories, a fundamental rationale, trying to recognise the other person’s question? MO’N: I think often you’re doing it in a very non-philosophical way. You could characterise what you do in those terms, but often it’s more like of an unreflective skill or craft, or way of going on,
rather than something that’s explicitly philosophical. Audra Mitchell and Maja Petrović-Šteger addressed the importance of defining communication – what counts as communication, whether all communication is equally valued, and the suitability or applicability of different forms of communication for different purposes: Audra Mitchell (AM): Do we need to think of the probing and response nature of communication as science, or more a kind of engagement or responsiveness that doesn’t necessarily fit within the confines of what we think of as scientific knowledge? I would say that communication is certainly social something, but I’m not so sure that is necessarily social science. MPS: Not every single communication leads to social science, and maybe we have to widen the definition of what we mean by communication. We can’t talk only about conveying explicit data or information - often when we are communicating we’re talking about unspeakable things. We can communicate via our bodies, using all kinds of emotions. We are gathering our social data by different means, not only by interviewing people and by talking to them, but also by observing them, by participating in the activities that they are doing. Maybe we have to talk about what is thinkable in a certain context where we are trying to communicate with somebody, and then we are basically trying to establish our mutual categories under which we can think and communicate to each other. AM: It is increasingly problematic to focus solely on this kind of subject-driven cognitive conscious model of communication. Working with post-humanist theory in philosophy, I have been considering how we limit the concept of communication to subjects, and almost exclusively human subjects. There is some really interesting work looking at how earth processes can be
ARE WE DOING SOCIAL SCIENCE WHILE COMMUNICATING?
read, and whether earth processes communicate. This raises the questions: is communication something that is limited entirely to humans, or are there semiotic processes? And are there forms of one-way communication or expression that aren’t necessarily rooted in the human subject? From the floor, Mark Carrigan questioned the communicative influence and importance of traditional academic outputs: Mark Carrigan (MC): Should we understand journal articles or monographs, as communication(s)? And how do the properties of these traditional forms of academic output shape the kind of communication that academics engage in? AM: I think it would be communication if it were freely available. However, the issue with journal articles is that you’re dealing with multiple gatekeepers, some of which are financial, some of which are intellectual, some of which are personal or political. As such, I think journal articles are communication in the sense that of a very constrained form of communication working within what should be challengeable frameworks, and constraints, but I don’t think it’s the kind of free scholarly communication that’s envisioned when people think about academic life or scholarly exchange. MO’N: These more traditional forms of academic output certainly are forms of communication, albeit perhaps more ritualised and less sensitive to audience than various other forms of communication. There is an ideal in philosophical communication, or philosophical writing, that there is something completely coercive about a really convincing piece of writing - that a convincing argument is one that rationally compels people to agree with its conclusions. There is no true sense of negotiation in this process of trying to change someone else’s mind.
The thought is that there ought to be an un-problematically coercive way of trying to change people’s minds - with social power, hierarchy, and concerns around the relationship between the ‘broadcaster’ and the ‘receiver’ stripped-out. A discipline like philosophy, or at least large swathes of it, still holds on to that thought that the unavoidably coercive bit of writing that really does change people’s minds is an ideal towards which to aim, whereas a lot of other disciplines are increasingly worried about that. LC: It should be possible for a piece of writing to be compelling not just in a coercive, ‘It’s a better argument, I agree with it’ way, but also by way of opening things up. It could lead to a more ambiguous thought of ‘I don’t quite think anymore what it was that I thought twenty minutes ago and I’m trying to figure out why.’ It should be possible to only partially agree with a brilliant piece of writing, and in some ways that’s actually far more powerful and more transformative than an argument which is simply assimilated wholesale. Steve Sturdy (SS): This does raise questions of inclusion and exclusion, because in many ways the tendency, the inclination, or the propensity to be compelled by certain kinds of argument can often take a strong disciplinary form as well. Is one likely to be compelled by a mathematical argument who doesn’t understand the rules of mathematical grammar, for example, and should one be expected to be? Likewise, it might be assumed that there are forms of academic discourse and debate which, as a result of our training, academics may be more susceptible to than others. LEB: Perhaps differing approaches to the question – and indeed to practising social science as communication, and communication as social science - can be put down to disciplinary difference. A philosopher might approach the question as ‘naïve’ social investigation, whereas an anthropologist might interpret it as concerning how communication can be used, misused,
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constructed etcetera. The last word is left with the Director of Research, reflecting after the ISRF Workshop: LEB: Reviewing this discussion I was interested to see how what unfolded from the question ‘Are we doing social science while communicating?’ brought out what was in my mind when I wrote the original introductory piece for the Workshop. The title and theme had been suggested by Steve Sturdy and Richard Freeman, and Steve Sturdy has lucidly developed their idea in his piece for this Bulletin. I had said that the title ‘Social Science as Communication’ was intended to provoke uncertainty (I now think I meant by that, a repudiation of certainty) and I posed a number of questions about the relation, and nature, of the two activities. What had, I think, been in my mind was what difference the reference to communication might make in the debate over the supposed difference (framed as between natural and social science) between knowledge of the natural world and knowledge of the social world. It was an analogy with the philosophical trope of ‘naïve physics’ as the basis for natural scientific knowledge which prompted my remark from the floor about naïve social investigation: we are, as communicative linguistic creatures all ‘naïve’ social scientists, seekers of knowledge of the world we make and inhabit. It’s in the service of this that we probe and test each other’s responses through communication. Also in my mind was the idea of the investigator in social science as her own instrument (the ISRF’s topic for the 2014 Essay Prize in Social Theory). Once our own instrument has been ‘calibrated’, disciplined by the disciplines, we become non-naïve ‘knowers’; our practice makes us ‘perfect’ in the sense of perfecting what we do, but at the expense of leaving aside what can’t be apprehended as an application of a discipline. What emerges for me from our discussion is the challenge not to limit the scope we have for calibrating ourselves in lots of different ways.
This issue features: Lara Montesinos Coleman Joel Lazarus Audra Mitchell Martin O’Neill Maja Petrović-Šteger David Reece Matthew Smith Steve Sturdy
Following the third annual ISRF workshop, this year held in Edinburgh, it seemed only correct that the Bulletin should reflect the wide rang...