The role of the social sciences in the revitalization of the public sphere. Case: Sustainable development
For decades, social scientists have bemoaned the state of the public sphere, its constriction and fragmentation, and delved into the possibilities of reviving it, that is, creating new conditions and spaces for articulation and deliberation. Yet it seems they turned a blind eye to their own role in the public sphere, its creation and development, and in influencing public opinion. In my doctoral dissertation I am examining the role of the social sciences in the public sphere, from a normative standpoint, as well as the actual possibilities and limitations of engagement. Primarily the contribution of the social sciences is in the research of social phenomena, in policy-making and mediation between different actors. However, they are not only important in their interpretive and mediative role. By engaging in public and critical discussions in the public sphere, social scientists contribute to public knowledge and understanding of modern society, as well as to a reflexive consideration of the public sphere itself, problematising implicit social values, political processes and institutions. In order to arrive at a fuller understanding of the relationship between the public sphere and the social sciences, I am exploring the actual possibilities and constraints on scientists’ work. In my dissertation I am focusing on one of the major obstacles to public engagement, that is, scientific culture itself. In the struggle for the autonomy of this social sphere, scientists continually construct boundaries between science and non-science as well as boundaries from other scientific disciplines, thereby constructing their identity, as well as setting the rules for engagement in other spheres of action. Besides autonomy and authority, finding the proper balance between legitimacy, credibility and relevance of science is key to reaching common understanding and building trust in the public sphere. The case of sustainable development, both as a research field and as a social problem, serves as a focus for my empirical research into the role of the social sciences. My research delves into whether and in what ways Slovenian social scientists engage in the public sphere, and how they, in this context, conceptualize sustainable development. The goal is to come to an understanding about the motivations of scientists to engage in the public sphere, the possibilities and constraints perceived in their (potential) engagement in the public sphere, as posed by the media and science policy.