Towards Critical Public Consciousness in STEM Education: Inter/Trans-national Perspectives



État de publication: publié

Type de présentation: Session paper: Interpretation of Two Ongoing Socioscientific Controversies in Quebec (Canada) Through Callon's Citizenship Models

Nom de la rencontre: American Educational Research Association (AERA)

Lieu: New York, États-Unis


Résumé: In the last five years, in one Canadian province, several environmental and health controversies have emerged, some of which have been covered by the generalist press. Current events were punctuated by citizen demonstrations on the Canadian pipeline projects. Citizens, numerous and diverse, continue to express dissatisfaction with the slowness of government management and emphasize their willingness and capacities to participate in decisions about which actions to focus on. That said, citizens are generally seen as suffering from a knowledge deficit and being incapable of grasping the complexity of scientific knowledge and, thus, in need of being educated. This social attitude continues to prevail in the media, society in general and in authorities’ discourses — even though studies in the fields of PUS and STS have invalidated this view (Suerdem et al., 2013), showing that citizens can understand science and uncertainties accompanying techno-scientific developments and that their contributions can enrich spectra of possible courses of action (Hess et al., 2008). To understand citizen engagement in public controversies, Callon’s (1999) categories seem helpful. In the public debate model, the knowledge produced and held by citizens, while generally different from that of scientists, is seen as enriching the definition of the problem and the examination of possible courses of action. The co-production of knowledge model goes even further, proposing that citizens can have pertinent experience regarding the socio-technological issues in question as well as the cognitive and discursive competencies needed to participate in defining the problem, forming “research collectives” and producing legitimate knowledge. These models, whose feasibility has been documented in PUS and STS studies, show that other conceptualizations of the right to express opinions and produce knowledge are possible. Of the three models, this model ascribes greater legitimacy to the knowledge of citizens – knowledge that is discredited outright in the public education model. In particular, it can help describe cases of citizen participation in the production of data that challenge political and scientific authorities. In this paper, I analyze different aspects of two environmental controversies currently under development in a city in Canada. One of the controversies concerns deposits of metallic dust from the port onto a central neighbourhood of the city. The other relates to the toxic fumes produced by a paint-to-metal plant. More specifically, I argue that the models developed by Michel Callon are useful for interpreting how the actors involved manage the controversy. Among other things, I show that, using the deficit model, municipal authorities depoliticize citizen concerns and delegitimize the knowledge that they detain and produce (at a city council, the mayor had said: “I want to tell amateurs and sorcerer’s apprentices, shut up and let scientists prove themselves”; Morin, 2015). I also illustrate that the co-production model of knowledge allows to understand the citizen actions of dust sampling, taking of photos and video and the subsequent use by the ministry of the environment of two angles of approach used by citizens (relationship between nickel concentrations and wind direction and association between nickel and cobalt concentrations).