Young people's perspectives of public engagement with science: a collaborative, intergenerational case study
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/07/2021
Dunbar, Stuart Thomas
As a field, public engagement with science has evolved from a communicative foundation (i.e. public understanding of science) to now embrace consultative and participative modes where non-scientists have greater involvement in the development of scientific knowledge. However, scant attention has been given to the potential roles and understandings of young people within this more diverse collection of modes that comprise public engagement with science. Fortunately, the interdisciplinary field of childhood studies provides tools to fill the void with its explicit focus on notions of children and young people. Therefore, this thesis combines public engagement with science and childhood studies through my Young SAGE project – an intergenerational collaboration – thereby addressing this academic oversight. Based on a reflexive thematic analysis approach, I initially illustrate the challenges for the adult researcher in attending to generational power dynamics that result from formal research requirements (including ethics guidance) and normative societal expectations. Then, paying careful attention to the intergenerational power dynamics within the Young SAGE collaboration, I highlight how participants developed ownership of different project facets by deciding on the substantive project and exhibiting distinct levels of decision-making leadership in progressing the overall project. Despite positive progress within the Young SAGE group, I also reflect on specific tensions caused by normative age-segregated perspectives when participants engaged other adults beyond the confines of our intra-group interactions. Finally, I incorporate the above analysis within an exploration of perspectives and insights into public engagement with science involving young people. Young SAGE participants expressed personal narratives that positioned themselves as agents capable of seeking communicative experiences to spark, or build on, existing interests, as well as to inspire ideas for future careers. Furthermore, their very involvement in Young SAGE, illustrates the potential for young people to contribute to the development of scientific knowledge. However, due to the generational structure of society – at least in the Minority World – it is necessary to consider how to maximise the appeal of engagement exercises to ensure they are attractive to young people and motivate their involvement, especially in collaborative contexts. In sum, this thesis delivers valuable insights, highlighting young people’s agential capacities, and articulating the potential barriers and affective dimensions that should be attended to within public engagement with science as it pertains to young people. In so doing, this thesis also reveals how the power dynamics implicit within the generational order of society marginalise the potential for young people’s contributions in the practice of science.