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Science Communication – Culture, Identity, Citizenship. Book review

Review by Birte Fähnrich

Sarah Davies and Maja Horst, both renowned STS scholars at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), have taken a very valuable approach to mapping the field of science communication. Their starting point is the obvious but also fundamental acknowledgment that science communication is a complex phenomenon that has seen several changes in the last decades and has been both a driver of, and affected by, social developments. The authors argue that a great deal of research has overlooked or even neglected the manifold intersections of science and its various actors, themes, spheres and discourses within society. Against this backdrop, Davies and Horst define science communication in a rather unconventional way as an ecosystem and they deploy the concept of culture as a heuristic framework to 'reorder' the field. This fits well with the authors‘ alternative perspective in both epistemological and normative terms and guides the reader through their ideas.

Sarah R. Davies & Maja Horst
Science Communication – Culture, Identity, Citizenship,
London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016
The book outlines very different facets of science communication, from the role of scientists, the changing nature of science and knowledge production (especially academic capitalism, the science-industry nexus) as well as linkages of scholarly communication and science communication to related effects on the interrelation of science and other societal spheres. The authors also focus on the professionalization of science communication and science PR, which again are related to changes in academia and knowledge production, as well as the position of science in society. A further chapter deals with important but less tangible and non-discursive elements of science communication, especially images, spaces and emotions. Last but not least, the connections between science communication and democracy and the concept of scientific citizenship are also discussed.

At first glance, the variety of issues addressed might appear as a rather arbitrary patchwork. However, the general organization of the book supports the development of the concept of science communication as a non-hierarchical ecosystem and emphasises its complexity. Moreover, the authors’ reflection of interrelations is always clear and comprehensible, draws from multiple perspectives and uses examples to illustrate the points; developments such as academic capitalism, and the professionalization of science communication and PR are described in a neutral tone. The authors’ assessments are well reasoned, they may be critical but do not appear as moralising.

The book concludes with a broad approach to reframing science communication theory and practice by outlining important fields to acknowledge in future research. The authors refrain from offering a concrete research programme for science communication, which as a field is as complex and fragmented as its object. But, again this fits with the authors‘ approach to science communication and their call for multiple epistemological, theoretical and methodological perspectives.

Overall, this book offers its readers both a comprehensible and instructive approach to science communication as a field of study. What makes it challenging in the most positive sense, however, is that it forces its readers to uncover their own narrow perspectives, blind spots and unanswered questions and thus truly “provoke[s] continued reflections” (p. 229) on science communication as a field of study and practice.

Birte Fähnrich is a senior researcher at Zeppelin University and holds a PhD in communication science from the University of Leipzig (Germany). She is the speaker of the Science Communication Division of the German Communication Association, a member of the committee of the network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) and co-editor of Forschungsfeld Wissenschaftskommunikation (The Research Field of Science Communication), published in 2017.