Vienna Setälä

Vienna Setälä

  • University of Helsinki
  • Department of Communication
Participant in 2008

Phd Projects


Accounts of Bioscience in Society. Us as Subjects in Science Journalism

In my work I will look into the accounts of science’s social status and role of bioscience in the articulation of the subject in science journalism. The thesis will consist of 3–4 case studies/articles in which I will analyse public discussions or defined writings on matters related to the biological human, in the Finnish quality dailies and science magazines. My main research questions are: Which theoretical paradigms of science communication and public understanding of science (PUS) prevail in the public discourse? How do these enacted notions of science in society relate to the subject positions and identities we are offered as readers by the ‘bioscience speech’, e.g. the popular evolutionary discourses and risk-oriented health promotion? The academic angle of the thesis is in the critical paradigm of PUS and science communication. The silent theoretical anchor of my work lies within the critical discourse theory by Michel Pêcheux and has a psychoanalytical grasp in its notions of texts and subjectivity. By recognizing the hidden levels of speech, this paradigm provides us with alternative interpretations as well as new perspectives. As my work covers norms and knowledge based on biology, I also built on some Foucauldian concepts. As methods, I apply frame analysis and critical discourse analysis. In the first part of my project I addressed the broadsheet press fuss aroused by the Finns’ supposed low acceptance of evolutionary theory, according to the journal Science. I show that the claims about ‘the superstitious Finland’ were ambiguous in the light of earlier surveys on scientific literacy. The leading discourse of the debate was based on the canonical deficit model of PUS. I argue that the antagonistic representation of social relations gave the debate resemblance to the Science Wars, and offered a platform for promoting rationalist discourse and evolutionary psychology as legitimate social science. By using evolutionary theory as a metonymy for the scientific world view, the debate over evolution’s scientific status was turned into a promotion of science’s cultural status. In my ongoing work, I analyse the recent ‘rebellion against fat’ campaign by the Finnish main newspaper, with an aim to catch the tacit value commitments regarding expertise and the relation between science and citizenry in this risk fat discourse. In the forthcoming work I will focus on evolutionary topics, to make the best use of my educational background in genetics and evolutionary biology. By calling into question a sloppy, and value-bound usage of biological concepts in social issues, as well as revealing the prevailing rhetorical notions of science communication in the public discourse, I wish to increase the public trust in science in the long term.

Go back