Exploring the science-society interface in South Africa

Exploring the science-society interface in South Africa

Author: Michael Gastrow – Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

Anne Dijkstra – University of Twente
Lars Guenther – University of Stellenbosch
Janice Limson – Rhodes University

South Africa is a unique laboratory for the study of the science-society interface: an upper-middle-income country with the second-largest economy in Africa, characterised by a multi-ethnic society and high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. The performance of advanced science at the apex levels of national institutions, for example in the domains of astronomy and biotechnology, is juxtaposed against major skills misalignments and cultural complexities in the public relationship with science. Our panel will explore aspects of the science-society relationship in South Africa through a variety of theoretical and empirical approaches, drawing on both international and local perspectives.

Our first focus area will reflect on the South African science-society relationship through the conceptual lens of ‘responsible research and innovation’ (RRI). We will present a case study analysis of responsible innovation RRI in South Africa, emerging from recent research of the NUCLEUS project. The second focus will be on a big science project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. We will reflect on recent research into the organisation’s engagement with local communities, representations of the SKA in the national media, and public perceptions of the project. The third focus area will be on biotechnology and society, from a practitioner’s point of view, reflecting on the complexities of developing new and socially appropriate technologies, and engaging with the South African public to diffuse these technologies. Finally, we will present an analysis of perceptions of controversial scientific fields (such as, nuclear energy, fracking, and biotechnology) for South African ‘born-frees’ – South Africans born since 1994, when Apartheid ended and democracy was established.

Together, these perspectives will stimulate a discussion about the science-society relationship in the South African context, and what lessons we can contribute to both South Africa and global debates.

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

Presentation type: Grouped paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication