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Home > Focus > Science and Governance: the provocation of responsibility.

Science and Governance: the provocation of responsibility.

by Redazione FGB [1], 9 February 2008

Conversation with Mariachiara Tallacchini [2]

On the Science in Society [3] website of the European Commision one reads that "The European Commission needs to create the conditions for a structured dialogue on questions relative to science, with a view to anticipating and clarifying the hopes and fears of the public. Faced with an informed and involved public, the sciences can fully contribute to stimulate competitivity, improve the quality of life and guarantee a long future".
In June 2005 and with these objectives in mind the European Commission invited a group of experts in Science and Technology Studies (STS) to conduct a specific study on science and governance. Mariachiara Tallacchini, a member of the expert group, explains that "The mandate of the Director General of Research for the European Commission was to analyse the growing sense of unease that pervades the interactions between science and society and to explore ways of developing constructive relationships between techno-scientific expertise and public fears, with a view to create a more efficient governance in Europe".
The expert group was coordinated by Brian Wynne [4] and personalities from the European scientific and academic communities were involved in a multidisciplinary undertaking: The French sociologist Michel Callon, Portuguese lawyer Maria Eduarda Gonçalves, Sheila Jasanoff, professor of science and technology studies at Harvard University, Belgian economist Maria Jespen, French economist and sociologist Pierre-Benoît Joly, Czech sociologist Zdenek Konopasek, German economist Stefan May, Claudia Neubauer from the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes in Paris, Dutch philosopher of science Arie Rip, Karen Siune, director of the Danish Centre for Research and Policy Research, Andy Sterling, director of Science for the Science Policy Research of the University of Sussex and Mariachiara Tallacchini, professor of Science and Technology and Law at the Catholic University del Sacro Cuore di Piacenza.
The expert group concluded its work in January 2007. The report entitled "Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously" was presented on 29th March 2007 in the presence of Göran Hermeren, President of the European group for the ethics of science and new technology and Cristine Majewski head of the External Relations Unit and administrative board of the European Authority for Food Safety. The Italian version, translated by Mariachiara Tallacchini, Scienza e governance. La società europea della conoscenza presa sul serio (Rubbettino, 2008) will be presented at the premises of the Giannino Bassetti Foundation in Milan on Friday 15th February 2008 with the participation of Mariachiara Tallacchini e Brian Wynne.
The themes under discussion will be introduced in Bergamo on Thursday 14th February with interventions by Piero Bassetti, Mauro Ceruti, Cristina Grasseni and Mariachiara Tallacchini, at the conference "Costruire un ponte tra scienza e società. Alla ricerca dei fondamenti della comunicazione della scienza [5]" organized by the doctoral school of Anthropology and the Epistemology of Complexity at Bergamo University and the International High School of Advanced Studies in collaboration with the Bassetti Foundation.
Mariachiara Tallacchini explains: "within the cultural horizons of the European Commission the STS point of view was missing; no report had ever used the science and technology studies perspective. Nicole Dewandre who was in charge of Science and Governance within the Directorate General for Research, was given the mandate to commission an expert group coordinated by Brian Wynne, which could be the European and international expression of this approach. The idea was that of presenting a variety of themes within STS at the same time, to answer the questions contained in the commission's mandate: why do citizens seem to be against science, why don't they trust science and scientists and what can be done about this? We addressed the principle of the reflexivity of the institutions. Our thesis is that the public fear of science is not produced by a deficit of knowledge, but by the doubts that the citizens feel in relation to the institutions themselves; the problem therefore regards policy and the way in which the discussion between science and society, science and the institutions is framed".
In 2000 the Lisbon Agenda accord of EU ministers set the state members the ambitious objective of becoming the most important knowledge based economy by the year 2010. The objective was reaffirmed in 2004 becoming a constant theme within EU and state member politics. Science is considered a determining factor within new modes of production and as a commodity in itself. The report "Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously [6]" speaks at a European level because as Tallacchini underlines "Europe has very specific problems: it has the problem of the passage from economic Europe to political Europe, and has the problem of the creation of a knowledge based economy, that has to be at the same time a real polity, a "political society and a democracy based on knowledge" in which knowledge provides also the workings for the economic model. In this sense Europe has not been trusting enough or has had enough self confidence in its own being a polity. The push that the EU is taking to construct its own political identity is defined by its own identity as a knowledge society, a reality in which knowledge and techno-scientific innovation, the original economic connotations and its more recent aspiration to be a united political entity have to be strengthened and reciprocally legitimised
The report "Taking European Knowledge Society Seriously" is not only aimed at an expert public, but at that which in the document is described as "civil European society that is constantly learning, democratic, founded on knowledge and cosmopolitan […] that can represent the social fabric that will sustain, and if necessary implement a democratic, vibrant, diversified and institutionally open European knowledge-based society".
From this point of view, which renounces a science-based politic in favour of a democratically oriented, policy-related science, the report can and should be read and used by the citizens, who now more than ever make use of the scientific gains and are more responsible for their implications and reverberations within society. The expert group maintain that alongside the official epistemology there exists what Sheila Jasanoff calls "civic epistemology", that is citizens elaborate their own very real epistemological cultures that cannot be undervalued. Brian Wynne himself has dedicated a lot of research and reflection to the notion of scientific citizenship and to participatory processes.
The translation of the document into Italian can be considered an incentive to involve Italian citizens, giving them an instrument both of reflection and of action. "Added to this I took this as a specific didactic service" adds Mariachiara Tallacchini "because in Italy STS studies are very much in their early stages. The Italian society for the study of science and technology was only created in 2005" (the president is Alessandro Mongili). Apart from the report, I have just finished the translation of Sheila Jasanoff's book Design on nature, democracy and science in the technological era (just come out in Italian translation for Il Saggiatore) to reinforce the introduction of this point of view to Italy. This book outlines another way to see the links between scientific knowledge and social choice, capable of overcoming the opposing positions of Catholics and laypersons, that is of no use to anyone. CTS studies are found at the intersection between the philosophy and sociology of science, anthropology and the ethnography of science. They are characterised by their attention towards the complexity of the socio-cultural roots of scientific knowledge, and for the knowledge and power dimension of science and society. Translating STS language into Italian is not a simple operation: cultural references in the texts go from literary critique to a form of sociology. Conveying not only the terms but also the cultural context into which the text was conceived makes the translation process particularly complex".
For this reason, aware of the difficulty of STS language, in his introduction Brian Wynne defines the document "intellectually (to not mention politically) provocative": Tallachini concludes that "with the report we wanted to surprise and induce reflexivity within the commission. Unfortunately at the moment it does not seem to have happened yet. But I trust that this cultural effect may be induced over some time thanks to this report. Our conclusion, according to which one adopt a policy design in which one is constantly aware of its problems, having to continuously broach them, implies that scientific institutions and governance learn to change their policy practices, through more inclusive, reflexive and open ways of learning,".

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  1. 1] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/schedabiografica/Redazione FGB
  2. 2] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/it/pagine/2008/01/mariachiara_tallacchini.html
  3. 3] http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society
  4. 4] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/en/pages/2008/01/brian_wynne.html
  5. 5] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/it/segnalazioni/2008/02/alla_ricerca_dei_fondamenti_de_1.html
  6. 6] http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/european-knowledge-society_en.pdf
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interview with Mariachiara Tallacchini
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