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Can Science Writing Collectives Overcome Barriers to More Democratic Communication and Collaboration? Lessons from Environmental Communication Praxis in Southern Appalachia

February 23, 2015 Comments off

As some of my other posts show, I have been interested in how writing collectives can operate and say different things than single or multi-authored writing projects.  This new paper reflects of efforts out of the Coweeta Listening Project’s (CLP) experience having written many newspaper essays under the moniker of “Science, Public Policy, Community”, but under the shared authorship of the Coweeta Listening Project Writing Collective.

Burke, B. J., M. Welch-Devine, S. Gustafson, N. Heynen, J. L. Rice, T.L. Gragson, S.Evans, D. R. Nelson. (2016) “Can science writing collectives overcome barriers to more democratic communication and collaboration? Lessons from environmental communication praxis in southern Appalachia.” Environmental Communication. 10(2): 169-186.

Abstract: Despite compelling reasons to involve nonscientists in the production of ecological
knowledge, cultural and institutional factors often dis-incentivize engagement between
scientists and nonscientists. This paper details our efforts to develop a biweekly
newspaper column to increase communication between ecological scientists, social
scientists, and the communities within which they work. Addressing community generated
topics and written by a collective of social and natural scientists, the column
is meant to foster public dialog about socio-environmental issues and to lay the
groundwork for the coproduction of environmental knowledge. Our collective approach
to writing addresses some major barriers to public engagement by scientists, but the
need to insert ourselves as intermediaries limits these gains. Overall, our efforts at
environmental communication praxis have not generated significant public debate, but
they have supported future coproduction by making scientists a more visible presence
in the community and providing easy pathways for them to begin engaging the public.
Finally, this research highlights an underappreciated barrier to public engagement:
scientists are not merely disconnected from the public, but also connected in ways that
may be functional for their research. Many field scientists, for example, seek out neutral
and narrowly defined connections that permit research access but are largely
incompatible with efforts to address controversial issues of environmental governance.

Keywords: science writing; democratization; public engagement; journalism;
coproduction