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Vernacular science knowledge: its role in everyday life communication

[journal article]

Wagner, Wolfgang

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Abstract This paper argues that our understanding of how the public understands science is incomplete as long as we do not answer the question of why, under which conditions, and in which form the general public assimilate scientific background knowledge. Everyday life and communication are governed by criteria of social efficiency and evidence. Under the conditions of everyday life, it is sufficient for the lay person to possess and employ metaphoric and iconic representations of scientific facts—called “vernacular science knowledge”—that are wrong in scientific terms, as long as they are able to serve as acceptable and legitimate belief systems in discourses with other lay people. These representations are tools for a purpose that follow local rules of communication. Research within the framework of Social Representation Theory—collective symbolic coping with biotechnology in Europe, lay understanding of sexual conception, as well as traditional versus modern psychiatric knowledge in India—is presented to illustrate.
Document language English
Publication Year 2007
Page/Pages p. 7-22
Journal Public Understanding of Science, 16 (2007) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)