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Toward a Democratic Science

Toward a Democratic Science: Scientific Narration and Civic Communication

Richard Harvey Brown
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Toward a Democratic Science
    Book Description:

    In this important book, a leading authority in the field of social theory and communication shows how scientific practice is a rhetorical and narrative activity, a story well told. Richard Harvey Brown develops the idea of science as narration, casts various scientific disciplines as literary genres, and argues that expert knowledge of any kind is a form of power. He then explains how a narrative view of science can help integrate science within a democratic civic discourse.Brown shows why social science knowledge is as much a rhetorical enterprise as is the social reality that it describes. He construes laboratory science, physics, ethnography, sociology, philosophy, and astronomy as genres, narratives, and other rhetorical practices, and thereby portrays science as a special kind of narrative discourse that generates theories and shapes their validity and significance. He next focuses on the political dimensions of science, including the politics of psychology in the United States, showing how power and knowledge shape, limit, and infuse each other. Brown argues that this linguistically and socially constructed character of knowledge does not undermine its truth value but rather reaffirms the moral status and political responsibilities of its practitioners. In one important chapter, written with Robert Brulle, he explores the movement for environmental justice in the United States, showing how ordinary people can use science as part of a larger civic narration. Brown concludes by discussing how the rationality of science can be preserved even as it is subsumed within a rational and moral civic discourse.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14635-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Chapter 1 Scientific Knowledge, Rhetorical Criticism, and Civic Communication
    (pp. 1-19)

    There is a profound chasm between science and ethics in our public life. Science guarantees that we live in a shared external world that can be known through reason. It provides an apparently neutral discourse through which peoples of different interests or values can speak. It has also become a driving force in economic and social production. As such, science permits us to create and maintain our complex social and technical systems. But identity, morality, community, and tradition are achieved through narration. It is through public narrations that we give meaning to our worlds and to our lives.

    The discourses...

  6. Chapter 2 Textuality, Social Science, and Society: Toward a Scientific Discourse for Civic Competence
    (pp. 20-39)

    The conflict in our culture between science and ethics can also be stated as an incompatibility of cognition and identity. Cognition through science yields a shared external world that provides a framework for our common life. But identity depends on constancy of human agency and intentions, and this cannot be achieved through scientific cognition. Instead it is through narration that we form our identities and give our lives their meanings.¹ Thus there is a contradiction: persons and peoples are constructed rhetorically through narration (Rorty 1987; Bruner 1987), but life or history as narration has no epistemological passport to enter the...

  7. Chapter 3 Social Science and the Poetics of Public Truth
    (pp. 40-63)

    Social science and poetics would seem to have little in common. Scientists study language as a datum and use it, so they say, only as a medium for reporting facts or truths that are discovered and conveyed through nonpoetic means. Indeed, much of the research methodology of the sciences can be seen as an attempt to bypass, or at least to narrow, the symbolic resonances of language and to establish a one-to-one “pointer-reader” relationship between words and things. Francis Bacon attacked rhetorical devices because they led men to “study words and not matter,” and Thomas Sprat in hisHistory of...

  8. Chapter 4 Science and Storytelling: Creating Truths through Narratives of Conversion
    (pp. 64-92)

    We can now explore in greater detail another aspect of the poetics of knowledge suggested in chapter 3—how narratives of conversion are used to represent or constitute “discoveries” in texts that claim to proffer new kinds of knowledge. In this, I leave out entirely the practices and contexts of reception of such texts, as well as the modes of representation other than narratives of conversion.¹ It does seem, however, that some kinds of discoveries characteristically take this narrative form—those that convey the reader into worlds that at first seem wholly other than anything seen before. This by definition...

  9. Chapter 5 Narrative and Truth in Scientific Practice
    (pp. 93-121)

    An adequate paradigm for civic communication must join efficiency in systems with significance in the lifeworld. That is, it must enable us to govern our polities in a rational manner to ensure collective survival, while providing us meaning and dignity in our existential experience of ourselves. Hence, such a discourse must be adequate not only on the level of science and technique but also on the level of ethics and politics. I believe that a reasoned narrative discourse, a truthful kind of storytelling, offers such a mode of civic communication. To develop this contention I argue here for two subsidiary...

  10. Chapter 6 Modern Science: Institutionalization of Knowledge and Rationalization of Power
    (pp. 122-152)

    We can now expand our discussion to include the political economics of science—how the creation and transmission of knowledge re-create and transmit forms of power, and how power shapes and deploys forms of knowledge. The relation of scientific knowledge and political power is not simply one of knowledge guiding power or of power shaping knowledge. It also involves institutional mediations and reciprocal transformations of the character of knowledge and power themselves. Broad historical and institutional conditions influence cognitive processes in the sciences and constrain the deployment of political and economic power. Local factors are also important. Although scientists have...

  11. Chapter 7 Poetics, Politics, and Professionalization in the Rise of American Psychology
    (pp. 153-173)

    Science is not only speculative activity supported by technical equipment and methods but also practices of controversy, persuasion, and institutional power. Logic and philosophy provide cognitive ethics for science, but they hardly describe or explain it. By contrast, an approach that simultaneously addresses poetics and politics, and that views logic as a method of persuasion, can reveal homologies between stylistic and social practices and thereby illuminate relations between knowledge, power, and legitimation. That is the goal of this chapter—to show how, in one discipline, the creation and transmission of knowledge re-created and transmitted forms of power, and how power...

  12. Chapter 8 Toward a Field Theory of Knowledge/Power in Science and Civic Life
    (pp. 174-192)

    For a long time, perhaps since Plato, Westerners have tended to assume strict separations between politics and reason, between power and knowledge, and between the external and internal criticism of science. In these bifurcations, the interest-driven, ideologically laden, external domain of politics was distinguished from, and made inferior to, the objectivism, value neutrality, and disinterestedness said to characterize science and scientists. In Marxian external analyses, for example, “bourgeois” science was viewed as a reflection of political economic forces. In positivist and functionalist internal analyses, scientific practice was seen as completely independent of political or economic influence.

    Since about 1980 such...

  13. Chapter 9 Democratic Science in Practice: The Experience of the Environmental Justice Movement
    (pp. 193-213)
    Robert J. Brulle

    How can we restore and enhance moral agency and civic initiative in a society that depends on scientific knowledge and is infused with social engineering? How can we reclaim public policy from experts and subsume their scientific knowledge within larger narratives of our common life? One step would be to understand science as a kind of storytelling and to construe persons as authors of their worlds, including the world of science. This would help liberate science from its positivist ideologues and make it more accessible to persons who know how to narrate their lives and worlds, that is, all members...

  14. Chapter 10 Science and Citizenship in a Technicist Culture
    (pp. 214-226)

    Scientific knowledge and its technical extensions have become a central force in our political economy and our culture. Science and technology are so useful for so many purposes that they easily come to dominate in areas of ethics and politics where they are not appropriate guides.¹ Moreover, many people claim that the objectivity of scientific language qualifies it as the one universal discourse for pluralistic societies—a discourse that transcends the ethnic or cultural biases of particular groups. With the spread of technicism, however, the value-neutral manipulation of things easily becomes an amoral manipulation of persons. In this technicist discourse...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 227-234)
  16. References
    (pp. 235-278)
  17. Index
    (pp. 279-283)