4 May 2018

New research from the SciCOM team focuses on how different rural communities in South Africa perceive science. The article “Science is Everywhere, but No One Knows It”: Assessing the Cultural Distance to Science of Rural South African Publics, has been published in Environmental Communication.

“We were interested into how different parts of a society experience and interpret science in their daily local and social life contexts,” Dr Lars Guenther explains.

“Especially important for us was one observation: In South Africa, there are two towns with large scientific installations: the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Carnarvon. We hypothesized that these installations might affect how people in rural parts of South Africa experience and feel about science. To investigate this in more detail, we conducted semi-structured interviews with people in Sutherland and Carnarvon, but we also talked to people in Clanwilliam and Paternoster, because in these two towns there are no large scientific installations. All together, we talked to 52 people.

“When comparing how these people interpret and experience science, we found that these people actually represented three different publics, based on sociodemographic characteristics: some of them are very close to science, some have a moderate distance to science, and some are culturally distant to science. Especially people in Sutherland experience science in a good way based on all the benefits they experience through SALT. These positive perceptions even make people we talked to in Sutherland closer to science than in the other towns. We did not find the same setting in Carnarvon, based on very different experiences people in this town have related to the SKA.”