On a different level, the new information is categorized on the basis of its affective value. Do I feel this could be meaningful for me, do I feel it can be advantageous or do I feel it might possibly be dangerous? etc... Whereas the basic categorization is friendly/inimical, it is subsequently elaborated depending on specific personal and context variables. This elaboration takes the form of representations that express the kind of relationship with the given subject (Carli and Paniccia 1981; Carli and Paniccia, 2002).
Let us consider an example. In a study for the dissemination of data from the EC-funded Geochemical Seismic Zonation project (Lombardi and Vercelli, 2000), two different groups were studied: one living in Spoleto, a high seismic risk area of central Italy; and one living in Rome, a low seismic risk area.
Science as knowledge
Earthquakes as totally unexpected events
Figure 1. Symbolic dimensions of earthquake culture and science image.
The two groups expressed several earthquake representations, which were linked differently to the image of science and what they expected from science. As can be seen in fig.1, earthquake culture was organized on two main axes.
The first one regarded earthquakes as being, at one extreme, totally unexpected events, that is something we can have no control over whatsoever. This idea was linked to an image of science as something without practical consequences, just knowledge for its own sake, or alternatively to a technical image of science, for example being able to tell how to construct buildings but with no potential for prediction.
At the other end there was a cultural dimension of getting total control over the natural phenomena of earthquakes. This could give place to two opposed conceptions of science, depending on how the community was represented. In a situation in which it was felt that everybody was left to themselves, that the frame of reference was constituted by popular sayings and stories, lived experiences and historical data, science could become a sort of omnipotent ideal. On the opposite side science was felt to be able to supply a certain degree of control, of mastery, when the phenomena was considered something that had to be faced through social organization. The four images of science that emerged help us understand the socio - cultural context and how new information is going to be processed.
In Rome, the low risk area, the "science as knowledge" and "useful science" images were prevalent. Here we have important elements derived from the city's history that "tell" the Romans that usually earthquakes are not too destructive for the city and that there are hundreds of ancient buildings still standing (even if the ground level might have sunk a bit). In this context the scientific contribution could be considered as being scarcely relevant (science as knowledge). What facilitates learning and stimulates an interest is the feeling that society as a whole is taking care of the problem and organizing itself to face it, going beyond the boundaries of one's own area and getting involved in the problem even if one is not personally touched by it (useful science).
In Spoleto, the high seismic risk area, the social representations highlighted quite a different cultural climate. Science images were mostly those of "omnipotent science" and "technical science". In this case the risk was that scientific information could be easily devaluated if it did not meet the expectation of having absolute and certain answers. In this community we would have expected to find more of the "useful science" image. Given the very real risk of earthquakes a good social organization based on updated scientific data could make a significant difference for the community. But this dimension seems at the moment lacking, whereas a more technical approach is more reassuring: we might have no control whatsoever but we can perhaps become more organized towards earthquake consequences.
Here ("technical science") we find more realistic expectations, which positively evaluate the contribution of social organization. It is then possible that an approach that couples scientific data with more technical information will facilitate learning and gradually help develop a more functional cultural representation ( could be "useful science").
The way it "feels" can make a great difference in the degree of interest for learning about a new subject. And the study of psycho-social representations can help us understand which is the better way to stimulate positive feelings and thus create a connection with people and stakeholders that will facilitate communication, learning, exchange of ideas and the discussion of problems (Carli, 1987; Carli et al., 1988).
The study of the cultural dimension we enter into, as we start talking about CO2GS, allows us to identify the possible obstacles to good communication. In this way we get to know the context factors that will influence the way people will look at what we are presenting. There is, though, an even more important outcome. As we start the study of psychosocial representations we give attention to something people live but haven't yet shared, expressed or thought about. We start to make connections and bring into the open issues that constitute implicit ties that need to be discussed. In this way we open a space where scientific data and research can become, and be felt as, the community's property. In other words we actively stimulate the process that allows research to be assimilated into the general culture. At the same time scientific research development is promoted through an open flux between the academic community and the rest of society (Gregory and Miller, 1998).
Was this article helpful?