PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Communicating Socio-Environmental Science
The Role of the Environmental Protection Agency in Ireland

Stephen Hughes  

Proposal for individual paper relating to evaluating public communication of science and technology theme. This conference paper arises from the findings of my current PhD research exploring the public engagement role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in environmental controversies in Ireland. In particular, this paper will address the hydraulic fracturing/fracking controversy in Ireland, seeking to establish what problems exist with the EPA's current approach, which it sees as simply 'communicating environmental science'. Drawing from recent developments in theory and practices of responsible research and innovation and scholarship in Science and Technology Studies (particularly that of Ulrike Felt and Bruno Latour), this EPA approach will be compared with a framework of engagement which would see the organisation's role as engaging the public with socio-environmental science. Using Actor-Network Theory-inspired ethnography and controversy mapping to trace the network of associations between actors in the fracking controversy, the paper will outline which networks are available to public engagement and participation, and which networks are closed off. It will be demonstrated how key sites of decision-making are completely cut off from public participation, increasing tension, opposition, and ultimately maintaining controversy. The paper will then suggest how the EPA might alternatively engage the public with socio-environmental science by opening up spaces of negotiation for concerned publics; collaborating and drawing from a wider set of skills, practices and expertise in the negotiation of environmental controversies; and reframing its approach to public consultation. This will contribute to a larger discussion in science communication scholarship about the relevance of responsible research and innovation to public engagement with science and technology and how it relates to state organisations and innovation and research policy. This research is almost complete and will be completed and analysed before the conference.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.