Posted by: soniahs | October 2, 2010

Exam reading: Scientific literacy as collective praxis

Is scientific literacy something that we should be able to assess in individuals? Or is it something that emerges as part of community activity? Traditional evaluations of science literacy are based on the former, but there’s a trend to see science literacy as an emergent property of social interaction (at least in non-professional contexts.) Here’s a summary of one paper on the topic:

Wolff-Michael Roth and Stuart Lee. “Scientific literacy as collective praxis.” Public Understanding of Science 11 (2002): 33-56. Print.

Summary: The authors rethink science literacy as a collective, action-based process, not everyday knowledge; they foreground the social and material aspects to learning (complex knowledge is a product of interaction among people and situated in space and social activities.) Their three propositions: sci. lit. is a property of collective activity; science isn’t a “normative framework for rationality” (people can draw on other approaches for decision-making); and effective learning activities have a community purpose (rather than learning as the primary goal.) They feel that “citizen thinking” (not pure science) is most effective at addressing specific local problems; this includes politics, aesthetics, philosophy, etc. Their research centers on a community group trying to improve a watershed. Group members from different activity systems (e.g., scientists, activists, farmers) represented the situation differently and contributed different understandings; the authors see “scientific literacy” as the more-complete knowledge of the situation generated by the interaction of these different understandings. Key conclusions: science literacy can arise through conversation- making known something that wasn’t known before- the collective understanding of the situation then influences individuals’ understanding. Learning is lifelong and situation-based.

Comments: Seems to apply more to science in everyday life, rather than professional science- so an alternative framework for the effects of citizen science projects. Part of their rationale for distributed nature of literacy is the division of labor and ability to consult experts in modern society. Social construction of learning: learning and agency are social; individual learning/agency are reflections of the social setting. Advocate definition of science as a creative activity “tempered by honesty in the face of experimental evidence.”

Links to: Shamos (key place of experts in public understanding of science-though he doesn’t define this as science literacy)



  1. […] to: Roth & Lee (conceptualize sci. literacy in PPSR as a communal property, not individual); Friedman at al. […]


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