Authors: Gisler, Priska
Schicktanz, Silke
Title: Introduction: Ironists, reformers, or rebels?
Other Titles: Reflections on the role of the social sciences in the process of science policy making
Language (ISO): en
Abstract: Public engagement has become increasingly important within the sphere of science policy making. A broad range of discursive experiments and participatory methods involving citizens, consumers, and other key stakeholders are frequently used to consult the public about their opinion of new developments in science and technology. This special issue of STI-Studies aims at addressing the role(s) of scholars in this important field. Having personally participated in a variety of public engagement exercises and public discourse experiments, and having carefully considered how we (as social scientists) fit within these exercises, we have come to realise that our roles are heterogeneous, complex and ambiguous. Social scientists complete a number of tasks in participatory science policy making: For example, they initiate public and/or stake holder discourses by adopting or even developing participatory and discursive methods. They organise and moderate various dialogues (for the case of Germany see e.g. Renn 1999). They oversee various public discourse events and evaluate the process (for the case of Switzerland see e.g. Gisler 2000-2003). They analyse and comment on the impact of participatory methods, drawing on sociological and political theories (e.g. Maasen/Merz, 2006). In brief, social scientists play a variety of formal roles, serving as organisers, moderators, evaluators, commentators and others. However, these formal descriptions are rigid and do not fully convey the underlying social, moral and political dimensions of these roles. Furthermore, there is some ambivalence between the formal functions and the socio-moral-political roles taken on by social scientists. This ambivalence arises due to a conflict between the form and content of these roles as well as the fact that multiple roles may coincide with each other. For a better understanding of the ongoing debate on participatory science policy making, it is necessary to reflect upon this ambivalence because it affects social scientists accomplishments in this important field. Our contribution to the recent debate is a kind of self-reflexive turn: We would like to carefully consider the role of the social sciences and the role(s) social scientists expect and are expected to play in the field of participatory science policy making. Therefore, in this introduction, we raise the following questions from a theoretical point of view: How do the social sciences influence participatory policy procedures? What kind of explicit and/or implicit role(s) do social scientists play in the construction of political procedures and public debates? In an effort to address these questions, we will, first, argue how participatory policy making is linked to the social sciences and its methodologies (chapter 1). Second, we will contextualize the development of participatory policy making within the methodological framework of the social sciences and the broader historical shift towards the democratization of society (chapter 2). Third, we will assess some of the roles social scientists have come to play in participatory policy making. We suggest a way of rethinking such roles by unmasking their often rather implicit social, political and moral premises and by critically reflecting on the idea that there is only a formal role played by the social sciences. This way Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking (1999). We will highlight some of the complexities and moralities linked to the concrete roles the social sciences play, especially in the sphere of science and politics. This will be discussed in more detail in the case studies and articles assembled in this issue (chapter 3). Fourth, and finally, we would like to consider some looping effects that the deconstruction of social scientific roles may have on participatory policy making on a more general level (chapter 4). The social sciences, as a collection of disciplines, could eventually contribute more to participatory policy making by reflecting on its current role(s) and by revising the methods that are applied to specific scientific fields. In doing so, the social sciences may gain considerable insight into how they function as a thought collective.
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Technische Universität Dortmund
Appears in Collections:Issue 1

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