Non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication

Long black served beautifully with lavender spring and vibrant napkin

Good morning! This posts marks the start of a new attempt to regularly write blog posts. I’ll be selecting some research in science communication (or a related discipline) and providing a quick synopsis while enjoying my first coffee of the day. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to hear about, let me know in the comments.

I’ll be starting off this series with Dr Lindy Orthia’s new article on non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication. The article is published in the Journal of Science Communication (details below), which is an open access journal. That means you can go check it out without paying!

Strategies for including communication of non-Western and indigenous knowledges in science communication histories

A brief summary

Problem: Existing accounts of science communication history are largely Eurocentric and Western. This prevents science communicators engaging with their longer, richer disciplinary history and marginalises the contributions of non-European, non-Western peoples. 

Findings: Orthia argues that for science communication to truly foster human diversity and diverse expertise, the discipline must: develop further, deeper cross-cultural connections, hold open conversations, and provide support for new research in science communication

More detail

History sets agendas. It informs and yet also prevents change. And, as Orthia notes in the introduction of this new journal article, our knowledge and awareness of history can both strengthen the community of a discipline and exclude potential members.

The origins of science communication as a discipline are generally presented as Western and recent. This characterisation is paralleled by the idea of ‘science’ as a Western and modern pursuit.

Calling something ‘science’ or ‘science communication’ bestows rhetorical power because these terms are exclusive.

Eurocentric histories tend to portray Western people and knowledge as inherently modern while non-European, non-Western peoples are tied to the past. Orthia contends that these accounts of history should be challenged because they evaluate knowledge by the standards of a different system and relegate that knowledge to the past. In doing so, these accounts imply that non-European, non-Western knowledges are primitive and substandard.

This is an unproductive approach for a discipline, like science communication, which is global and long standing. A lack of understanding of the disciplines diverse past contributes to ongoing marginalisation and inequity experienced by people within and without the discipline’s community and impairs our ability to do good research and practice.

In this paper, Orthia challenges the default characterisation of science communication’s history as Western and recent and argues that the discipline should, instead, be working towards understanding its “long term, cross-cultural histories”.

Orthia expands on this point using an example of science communication that is “likely among the oldest in the world”. This example depicts a geological event, witnessed by the Indigenous Australia Yorta Yorta Nation and still told in stories today.

Orthia presents a two-part approach for improving the inclusivity and diversity of science communication research and practice. The first part focuses on broadening our conception of science communication so that it becomes a set of practices rather than a single, unified endeavour. The second part recognises the multiple histories which can contribute to a deeper understanding of the disciplines past and present.

Further reading

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