Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Matthias Ruth
Chapter 2: Public meanings of science and the environment
This chapter considers environmental issues as discussed in the literature on the public understanding of science (PUS). The environment is a particularly salient topic in the field and so the account given here is necessarily selective, though it aims to provide some coverage of both the public understanding of the environment and the public understanding of environmental science. It might be thought that these matters are effectively the same, but for reasons to be discussed they need to be viewed as rather different. The further question might then be posed as to whether the distinction is important given that it might be assumed that the latter is what counts and the former either irrelevant or, at worst, an active impediment to the latter’s communication and advancement. As is to be explained, however, things are far from this simple; in fact, it is this way of thinking about the public in relation to science that has proven to be deeply problematical, serving to establish both the central agenda of concerns and the main fault-lines of dispute that, over the past 30 years, have defined the field commonly known (if not entirely satisfactorily or consensually) as the public understanding of science. The chapter begins by identifying a broad set of dilemmas that inform PUS and are particularly pronounced in the case of environmentalism, which may help to account for what seems to be something of a historical link between the development of the two concerns dating back to the 1970s.
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