Producing the post-Fordist public: the political economy of public engagement with science

Jane Gregory, Charles Thorpe (Collaborator)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    The commercial exploitation of scientific knowledge and increased public participation in democratic decision-making about science and technology have emerged as the two central themes of contemporary science policy in Britain. We argue that the prominence of participatory discourse in contemporary science policy is primarily due to the close fit of this discourse with the post-Fordist and post-industrial economic strategy of the British state. Participation is a form of immaterial labour which gains currency in this phase of capitalism, blurring the distinctions between production and consumption, and between the economy and the political or communicative public sphere. Participation is cognitive, interpretative, affective, and social work which enters into the construction of technologies as bundled material artefacts and cultural meanings. Participation operates both in the production and consumption of goods and in the legitimation of social and political relations. Public engagement exercises prepare the product for the market and the market for the product. Such exercises therefore instantiate the way in which immaterial labour is both productive and political. Participation activates, but also disciplines, the subjectivities of post-Fordist publics. Contrary to the rhetoric of democratization that has accompanied public engagement efforts, these programmes potentially operate as forms of control and co-optation, and promote the shaping of publics as markets.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)273-301
    Number of pages28
    JournalScience as Culture
    Volume19
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2010

    Keywords

    • participation
    • engagement
    • post-Fordism
    • immaterial labour
    • nanotechnology
    • science communication

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