Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - M-A-P-E-S (Materiality and Affect in Public Engagement with Science)

Research context and field
This project explored the practice of public engagement with science, and in particular interactive forms of science communication. Its innovation was in understanding these participatory processes as material and affective in nature, rather than as solely oriented around the exchange of verbal arguments. It involved both phases of theoretical and empirical research; together, these produced new insights into public participation with science.

Scientific and technical work performed
The MAPES project began by producing new conceptual insights into the study of public engagement. Based on thinking from affect theory, political science and STS, the researchers published reflections on the need to study science communication and public engagement as embodied, material and emotional (as well as constituted through discourse). They also developed a framework for empirical engagement and analysis of such instances of interaction between science and society.

The key empirical case was the ESOF (Euro Science Open Forum) event, which took place in Copenhagen in 2014. This combined a science policy conference with a large public festival ('Science in the City'), which drew almost 40.000 visitors. ESOF provided a key opportunity to study a range of interactions between laypeople, scientists, science communicators and policy makers, and to observe the role that place, site, material configuration, and affect played within these interactions. The project took an innovative approach to studying these interactions and to collecting data that could capture the role of, say, emotion and embodiment. Six specific science engagement projects hosted by the Science in the City festival were selected, and data collected around these through a combination of methods. Some were traditional: for instance, interviews were carried out with the organisers of these projects, and participant observation took place. But others sought to capture non-discursive aspects of visitor engagement with the projects. Engagement with the projects was comprehensively photographed throughout the festival; short films based on sensory ethnographic approaches were developed for each project; and student participants carried out 'auto-ethnographic' engagements with and reflections on them. In sum, a mixed method data set was built up which captured multiple aspects of visitor engagement with these diverse forms of science communication.

Key research findings
This produced a significant data set, and analysis of this is ongoing. Recent and in press publications have explored the complex background to and articulation of these apparently mundane forms of science communication. Not only are projects such as those studied made meaningful through multiple sensory, imaginative, civic and personal resources (for instance: how far one has walked; whether there is a personal connection with the topic; whether it is raining), but each is put together through a range of organisational dynamics. One key finding has been to emphasise that science communication never exists solely on its own terms. It plays a role within organisations, personal career trajectories, national identities - and much else besides. ESOF is a case in point. The public engagement that took place there overlaps with experiences of Copenhagen as a city, Danish national identity, university and research organisation branding, and science policy debates. Public engagement with science cannot be straightforwardly separated from these dynamics and drivers.

Impact and implications
In highlighting the complexity of science communication and public engagement with science, the MAPES project has clear implications for science communicators, policy makers and funders. Project researchers have developed a Copenhagen-based network of practitioners, students and researchers interested in these topics, and in making use of such research. Engagement with this community continues. As a whole, the project has contributed - and continues to contribute - nuanced understandings of the practice of science communication, and the way in which its production and consumption is used by different actors.

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