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Public uptake of science: a case for institutional reflexivity.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date1993
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Number of pages17
Original languageEnglish


This paper attempts to advance the notion of relexivity as a key element of improving current understanding of the public understanding of science problem, and for improving the relations between science andits public more generally. By reflexivity here I mean more systematic processes of exploration of the prior commitments framing knowledge, in the way it has been introduced in sociological debates on modernity, rather than the more methodological-epistemological principle of consistency as it has been developed in sociology of science. The dominant framing of the public understanding of science issue corresponds with wider assumptions about the relationship between science and laypeople. Laypeople are assumed to be essentially defensive, risk- and uncertainty-averse, and unreflexive. Science on the other hand is assumed to be the epitome of reflexive self-criticism. This paper draws upon research in PUS to show that laypeople display considerable reflexive negotiation of their identity in relationships to science and scientific institutions. The latter, on the other hand, show considerable deep resistance to recognizing and reconsidering the unstated models of the public which structure their scientific discourses. This only makes the public understanding problem worse. Reflexive institutions would be needed to place science-public interactions on a more constructive footing.