Digital absenting: The impact of digitization on narratives of science communication

Digital absenting: The impact of digitization on narratives of science communication

Author: Kate Hannah – Te Pūnaha Matatini, New Zealand

Growing digitization of historic and contemporary sources offers new narratives, viewpoints, and perspectives to both history of science and science communication stories – but, increasingly, replicates patterns of marginalisation, leaving out or absenting the contributions, work, and lives of women, people of colour, and under-represented minorities. A recent opinion piece published in Nature, ‘Removal of statues of historical figures risks whitewashing history’, provides context for the importance of science-telling to directly address and respond to past and present injustices with regards to the representation of, and discourses within, science and science communication.

A critical contributing factor to this continued absenting of marginalized voices is digitization: stories of women, people of colour, and underrepresented minorities are quite literally harder to find when primarily relying on easily-accessible, already digitized sources. Mitigating against “camouflage intentionally placed” (Rossiter, 1982) requires developing techniques and approaches that notice and highlight acts of exclusion. If “one cannot use the same techniques to study the knowledge of the dominated as … the powerful” (Hill Collins, 1989), then what techniques should we use? Drawing on a review of current sources of information about women in science in New Zealand history – from published and unpublished sources, including oral history, memoir, organizational records and histories, datasets, participant histories, – and, using both international and local historic and contemporary examples of digital absenting, I explore the impact of digital absence on contemporary science-telling.

Stories – and the power of narrative – are critical aspects of successful science communication. This is part of the Hidden Networks project, in which we seek to develop new theoretical approaches, mitigating against the effects of subjectivity and standpoint that are innately linked to focussing on individual, narrative-based, science story-telling.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication