This paper may be of interest to readers thinking about the local political and historical context and how this impacts on both science culture and the culture of science communication or public engagement within a country. This article focuses on South Africa although many of the considerations within it are likely to be pertinent in other countries, which experienced colonialism.
The author, Hester du Plessis, argues that there has been neglect of the field of science communication in South African history and links this to a history of colonialism and apartheid. This resulted in westernised culture and knowledge being 'imported' into the country yet being shared with the ruling elite without interest in local indigenous ways of understandings or needs.
Hester states provocatively that to establish a 'health balanced science culture' 'a culturally homogenised society is required with a trusting and mutually respectful relationship between its government, its academics and the general public(s).' but that this has not been seen in South Africa.
He argues that in the South African, democratisation process after 1994 saw a marginalisation of local South African ethics, values and knowledge systems at the expense of an exclusive western science culture along with an attitude of racial superiority. Within this context, science communication, and public debate and discussion as an inclusive process across sectors of society, was restricted and with local knowledge systems being perceived as inferior.
This, he believes created a situation in which the deficit model of science communication (in which people are perceived as ignorant or empty receptacles ready to be filled with scientific information) was able to dominate. Against this historical backdrop, in the 1990s the African National Congress party pushed for policies to advance science and technology in South Africa and to promote public understanding within this. However the author believes that still, marginalised and disadvantaged populations are missing out. Also, there is a persistent gender and racial bias within academia and so research interests are unlikely to represent the interests of the majority of the population.
A racial bias seems to dominates more recent science communication efforts too according to a 2009 report from the The Human Sciences Research Council and still, activities seem to follow a model which positions 'public' or 'community' as deficient despite this being a globally contested model.
Today there is growing pressure for this to change and for science communication to be recognised as important for South Africa as part of the 'pluralistic knowledge society' and the need for a science communication paradigm that recognises that science and technology operate in and stand relative to other sectors of society. Sadly, however, the author believes that the legacy of British colonialism and its denial of local knowledge systems still has a hold.
He leaves readers with three questions:
1- How do we implement the redemption of traditional knowledge systems (IKS) to become part of mainstream scientific knowledge?
2- How do we go about subjecting IKS to the rigours of scientific method to wean out damaging and out-dated practices?
3-How do we report on the convergence of such politically separated sciences?
Finally he states that, 'unless we start to indigenise science communication to serve all people, this field of research
will remain as a neglected area in the South African communication world.'
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