Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Circulation of Knowledge in Public Discourse-Between 'Popularization' and 'Populization'

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Circulation of Knowledge in Public Discourse-Between 'Popularization' and 'Populization'

Article excerpt

Introduction:

The Circulation of Knowledge and the Democratization of Culture

The main objective of this paper is to investigate the circulation of knowledge in public discourse. What is involved is analysis of two partially competing models of circulation, which can be called the 'popularization' and 'populization' of knowledge. 1 The first is identified with the traditional activity of academic elites and usually takes the shape of informing the general public about scientific discoveries and translating the hermetic academic jargon into language accessible to a wider audience. This model stems from the conviction that the world of scientists and laymen is deeply divided, and overcoming this difference is only limitedly possible. The second model, which for the purposes of this paper is called the 'populization' of knowledge, attempts to describe the process whereby the current (elite) administrators of scientific knowledge lose their monopoly position. Observation of contemporary social practices leads to the conclusion that the number of areas and disciplines within which scientists can count on unconditional deference is drastically shrinking. In many areas, their position is undermined by the scepticism of representatives of spheres that do not have institutional legitimacy or are legitimized in a way that scientific institutions find controversial. This applies to politicians, journalists, civil activists, new social movements, NGOs, religious institutions, think-tanks, artists, and determined amateur enthusiasts. Many of these successfully defend themselves against labels of 'counter-knowledge' or 'pseudo-science,' and seek supporters within channels not necessarily sanctioned by scientists.

In analyzing public discourse, particular attention should be devoted to those forms of knowledge that are present in debates on social issues publicly defined as important. Many are accompanied by the language of science and technology. Attempts to use this language as an instrument are particularly evident in conflicts over controversial topics- including those currently associated with medical procedures (such as in vitro treatments, public vaccination programs, stem cell research, or nanotechnology), genetically modified organisms, climate change, and atomic energy. Examples of disputes that involve both the authority of scholars and contributions from non-specialists can be found not only among the medical sciences and natural sciences. There are also public conflicts over issues more closely related withthe social sciences: economic issues (suchas the causes of the economic crisis), history (alternative descriptions of the past), and psychological or educational practices (the social status of psychotherapy and media counselling or different approaches to parental care).

This description of two models of the circulation of knowledge ('popularization' and 'populization') is intended to complement and expand existing studies on the representations of knowledge present in social life. Significant studies have already been conducted: inter alia, on the basis of media studies and discourse analysis. An important achievement of media studies has been its focus on the convergence of the information, education, and entertainment functions of the media, in terms of 'infotainment' (cf. Thussu 2007) and 'edutainment' (cf. Lehmkuhl et al. 2012). Discourse analysis has focused instead on the study of linguistic and semiotic practices related to popularization in the most commonsense way-making a communicative version of complex scientific content or elements of expert knowledge available to the general public. Analyses have addressed issues such as the recontextualization and reformulation of knowledge in media practice (Calsamiglia and van Dijk 2004), or the transfer of knowledge through an expert and a non-professional meeting face to face, for example, a physician and his patient (cf. Gülich 2003). Researchers in other disciplines have examined the issue of knowledge medialization (cf. …

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