Effective communication of science and research, as well as building and maintaining a professional profile, has challenged academics, researchers and their institutions in highly competitive fields for decades. Social media is branded as a way to overcome this and many are adopting into the dominant paradigm. Social media was the feature of the concluding presentation at the recent CSU Institute for Land, Water & Society (ILWS) forum in early July at Thurgoona, with a ‘Speed date’ provided via this YouTube Clip.
As a social scientist l asked myself, how does our ‘profession’ respond to this obviously clever piece of marketing? When confronted by the dramatic music, bold graphics, sense of dynamism, do we question the statistics, the source or the intent, as normally practiced by scientists?
To explore these questions, l ‘visited’ the YouTube site and found the original version, (different music, different mood) produced by a successful American business marketing academic-come-guru, Erik Qualman.
So, given that the video is directed for business marketing, how does this fit into how we want our science and knowledge portrayed, in a field where regulation and control and ethics is largely uncontrolled? Is quantity of tweets and ‘likes’ a sign of success (or a source of tears) of our professional and scientific reputation? Does it mean we are more deeply engaged with our communities in which we work? With the speed and scope of social media gaining a foothold of ‘communications’ (if the statistics in the YouTube video are correct), how can effective monitoring by independent researchers take place? Do we face reactive rather than proactive responses in efforts to understand the consequences of participation in what feels like a huge uncontrolled experiment?
As a result of using social media, do we know if the public has increased empathy for what we do, the ecosystems in which we work, if we are simplifying complexity to such a degree? Don’t we already face that problem in the media’s construction and presentation of science? How does it assist the public in understanding of what is happening around them? These not only represent social issues, but they also reflect the challenges we face in working with policy makers, funding bodies and communities at grass roots levels. The Institute for Public Participation (IAP2) outlines a number of techniques and mechanisms for engaging with the public and communities. Engagement and getting quality information out there is time-consuming and requires good planning. It’s also done more effectively when done in a team, within a network. So much of social media seems to be aimed at solo-practice, solo image, solo identity.
We are told that we need to consider different target audiences in how we communicate (i.e. GenTweet), but historically this has always been the case due to, logically enough, different generations working and living together. Like any policy instrument mix to assist landholders adopt new practices and be better engaged with science and the environment, mixed mechanisms are recommended. Communication techniques and engagement require a similar approach- reliance on only one method may be something we regret later on.
Globally, neoliberalism has transformed nations politically, financially and culturally. It has driven a corporate mantra into policies for education and government agency extension. This transformation has been ably assisted by communications technology. It has also been claimed that economic market forces are becoming a replacement for intellectual creativity, with electronic communication allowing a mass to participate in a far more ‘amusement-oriented’ education and knowledge sharing pastime. Due to the global scale of such changes, “…localised powers, devoid of ecumenical ambitions, seem less receptive of the products of intellectual discourse” (Bauman, 2001). Leading on from this, l pondered on a few more questions. If social media is organised as a marketing platform, and perhaps providing another avenue for neoliberal processes to filter into market influences, where (and how) do science and ‘knowledge’ fit into the financial market? Are science and knowledge in the process of becoming ‘entertainment’, now valued more as commodities? In this context, should we also be asking if the use of social media is possibly contributing to a reframing of knowledge and scientific research?
I left the ILWS forum hoping that the skills and ideas present highlighted the potential for working collaboratively, and possibly exclusively, on real science communication projects. In the competitive matrices-funded world we face, perhaps this could assist communicating our research beyond the current paradigm. As a new distance education PhD candidate, it was a great forum to gain a greater grasp of what was being done in collaborative teams (as well as the potential for the future) in the Strategic Research Groups. It was also ideal to meet students and staff in a stimulating atmosphere, face to face, to practice the art of communication.
Some useful references that l have come across that may be of interest:
Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking sociologically (2nd ed.). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.
Featherstone, M. (2009). Ubiquitous media: An introduction. Theory, Culture & Society, 26(2-3), 1-22. doi: 10.1177/0263276409103104
Hannigan, J. A. (2006). Environmental sociology. New York, N.Y.: New York, N.Y. : Routledge.
Hansen, A. (1991). The media and the social construction of the environment. Media, Culture & Society 13(4): 443.
Hansen, A. (2011). Communication, media and environment: Towards reconnecting the production, content and social implications of environmental communication (Vol. 73). UK: Sage publications.
Lockie, S. (2009) Governance in Australia: Agricultural Biodiversity and Neoliberal Regimes of Agri-Environmental, Current Sociology 2009 57: 407, DOI: 10.1177/0011392108101590.
Institute for Public Participation visit: http://www.iap2.org.au
van Dijk, T. (1997). Opinions and ideologies in the press. In Garrett, A & Bell, P (Ed.), Approaches to media discourse (pp. 21-63). Oxford: Blackwell.
Copyright Sam Strong 2013