Terra incognita – shedding light on the public’s views of humanities research

Terra incognita – shedding light on the public’s views of humanities research

Author: Fredrik Brouneus – VA (Public & Science), Sweden, Sweden


  • Martin Bergman – VA (Public & Science), Sweden
  • Gustav Bohlin – VA (Public & Science), Sweden
  • Fredrik Brouneus – VA (Public & Science), Sweden

Since 2002 the non-profit organisation VA (Public & Science) has been following confidence in research among the Swedish public. The results reveal a consistent pattern of confidence levels for different research areas: medicine comes out on top, followed by technology, natural sciences, social sciences, educational sciences and, lastly, humanities. Interestingly, the decisive difference between medicine and humanities is not found in the proportion claiming to have low confidence in the respective research areas; rather, it’s in the percentage of people that have “no opinion” that the areas differ. A significantly larger proportion of Swedes lack an opinion about their confidence in research within the humanities compared to that for medicine, natural sciences or technology. In recent years, our follow-up studies (e.g. public focus groups, analyses of media coverage and interviews with journalists and researchers) have provided clues to possible explanations for this pattern. Currently we are combining a quantitative survey with in-depth interviews, to focus specifically on the “no opinion” group. The purpose is to learn why it is that different groups in the population lack an opinion about their confidence in humanities research, whether they perceive this to be a problem or not, and what they need in order to form an opinion. In this paper we will present preliminary results, linking them to findings from our previous studies. We will also discuss how results may be used to develop public communication of humanities research. The project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Social Sciences and Humanities.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time