PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


ANT with a bite?

Debate, rhetoric and science conflict communication

Padraig Murphy  

What does it mean to communicate a science controversy? It may be dispassionately, using historical or journalistic processes, from the outside. Within the controversy, there are sides taken, rhetorical devices to be employed, whether by speech or focus group. But contemporary STS, particularly actor-network (ANT) and composition theories, are showing how controversies in eg emerging technologies combine, grow, become part of the system. It may seem that the cut and thrust, the bite, characterising popular communication of science , or STEM outreach, or the rhetoric of communications from TED talks or Famelab, are missing. We have yet to identify the language and mode of argument between these actors. We explore in this paper the gap that exists between a communication of emerging sciences and technologies and the representation of objects, ideas and talk in ANT, as an ongoing project to establish connections between science communication and the concepts of STS. It involves engagement of actors, human and non-human, while simultaneously communicating between and outwards, on the controversy within the sociotechnical issue itself. We present empirical data from four fields in which debate or conflict is played out either wholly online, or sometimes online with corresponding face-to-face debate : 1)'Evolution debates', focusing on the rhetoric of the Hamm v Pye debate 2) GM potato project in Ireland 3) online nanotechnology knowledge debates and 4) controversy mapping using specially constructed software by Medialab, Paris. Taking an STS approach, these fields challenge the whole notion of what we mean by 'debate' - or perhaps there is an inherent warning. How can actors, humans and non-humans, 'argue with each other' in the network? How do we communicate this level of complexity in conflict?

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