An Undisciplined Poster

Image: Catherine Price

Sunday 18th November, 2018

By Catherine Price

Image: Catherine Price

In June, I was fortunate enough to present a poster at the Undisciplining Conference. I talked about Structure and Undisciplining in a post for the live blogging project undertaken during the conference, and I had similar feelings when producing this poster. I felt I was producing a poster which was disruptive. Posters I have previously presented at academic conferences have included Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusion sections. This poster enabled me to be free of those conventions. I enjoyed the creativity process I was able to employ. What felt like a lack of rules enabled me to explore aspects of my PhD research in a more free and unrestricted approach.

My research focuses on the construction of claims of scientific authority, credibility and trust, together with the contestation and disputation of these claims in connection with online news coverage and audience reception of the genetically modified (GM) food debate. Genetic modification uses artificial techniques to transfer genes from one species into the genome of an unrelated species. This is conducted to confer an advantage, which for example, can be drought or flood resistance in plants. In this poster, I chose to illustrate the difference between the Public Understanding of Science model and the Public Engagement with Science model which I use in my research. The apparent lack of rules enabled me to explore my ideas by explaining the two models in the unconventional form of recipes.

The Public Understanding of Science recipe is designed to depict how excluding various actors from decision making processes can impact on the reception of a particular science. This is especially pertinent in respect of citizens. To explain the Public Understanding of Science approach, the only actors I use are the European Union (EU), the British Government, scientists, and biotechnology companies. This demonstrates the concentration of power which exists in the food system and how this rests with only a handful of actors. In this model, citizens are excluded. I also attempt to illustrate the relationship between emotions and food. This is important because food can invoke a range of feelings from the good to the bad, joy or disgust. It is these range of emotions which assist citizens in deciding whether particular foods can be consumed or not. This recipe is designed to demonstrate citizens’ reactions to foods they are uncomfortable with consuming, if they lack involvement in decision making processes.

The Public Engagement with Science recipe is designed to illustrate the effect of bringing non-experts into decision making processes. There are extra ‘ingredients’ in this recipe and these are the non-experts. Farmers and citizens are the end users of the scientific developments of GM food. Media and activists are potentially powerful forces in the choices citizens make about food, although with a caveat. While the media and activists cannot determine the final choices citizens make about which foods to consume, they can make citizens think about what they are eating. If non-experts are included in the decision making process, food choices can be opened up to a greater range of actors. As this example with GM food illustrates, aspects of the food system can be improved if all actors are involved and can voice their opinion. Food production can bring about environmental destruction, poverty, labour exploitation, a lack of regulation and management of environmental hazards, a lack of diverse and nutritionally adequate sources of food, and a concentration of power in the agricultural supply chain. By addressing these food issues, food may potentially taste better if we believe it is ethically produced. Non-experts create disruption by questioning the ideas of experts. Challenging experts can be a good thing if it is managed correctly. By doing so, and working as a collective, a food system can be created which works for all, not just the select few.

Designing this poster taught me that an undisciplined approach enables creative thinking. Whilst academic convention means we follow the rules, I believe we should embrace the opportunities which come along which enable us to break standard practices. There is as much to learn from being undisciplined and disruptive as there is from following convention.

Catherine Price is a PhD Student in the Sociology Department at the University of Warwick. Her broad research interests are science communication, and public engagement with science through the media. She is also interested in the representation of food in the media. Catherine’s PhD thesis is examining the constructions of science, and scientific expertise and alternative expertise in the online GM food debate.

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