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Conference Papers Year : 2018

Post-normal science and environmental communication: Talking about risk, uncertainty and controversies


This contribution presents an epistemological reflection on the impact of "post-normal" science theory for the researches on communication processes around environmental issues. The objective is to show the relevance and usefulness of this vision of science for communication sciences, and to point out how this model allows describing complex and "hybrid" communicational processes. The complexity introduced by the environmental problems in our everyday life has invalidated certain practices of a 'normal' science (Kuhn, 1970) based in part on laboratory experimentation and its enlargement by applied science. New proposals concerning a "post-normal" science have appeared, where scientific research is carried by an expanded community of peers, hybridizing and crossing the uninitiated and expert contributions. Thus, "when facts are uncertain, values are controversial, stakes are important and decisions are urgent" (Funtowicz, Ravetz, 1993), this approach revises in-depth the entire process of managing issues: from the definition of the problem to its methodological approach, to the resolution process, decision and action. This proposal is close to the thought of Bruno Latour on the sociology of science (e.g., 2004). Its potentialities have not yet been exploited completely. In this communication, we will propose in the first part to clarify this new theoretical framework proposed by “post-normal” science on environmental issues. Secondly, we will focus our analysis on its translation for communication research and we will explain what the impact could be. We will develop our theoretical framework, taking into consideration some researches in environmental communication that have partially addressed this issue. For example, when addressing the issues of public participation in environmental decision-making, and more specifically transparency, dialogue and spaces of discussions issues, Martin's researches (2007) focused on the communicational processes by which the compromise was found through participatory processes within native communities. Hamilton (2008) worked on convergences or divergences on nuclear weapons issues and their environmental consequences. Working on environmental co-operation and the resolution of conflicts, Walker (2004) describes the environmental models as collaborative ones. Roqueplo (1988), through the example of acid rains, addresses the issue of the social actors’ positioning and the one of controversies and conflicts. Nicole d’Almeida and François Allard Huver (2014) have developed a research on the dramaturgy of risk (see also the doctoral work of François Allard-Huver, 2015). Jean-Baptiste Comby (2012) has analyzed the controversies over climate change and their hybrid and transversal nature (involving actors who have very different statutes). We stress the work of Bolin on the history of science about meteorology and climate change and its effects on public opinion (Bolin, 2007), on the effects of communication to create the conditions for change of perception in facing the climate change (Bostrom and Laschof, 2007), on the predictive ability of the communication on change (Brisse, Oreske and O'Reilly, 2013) or finally on the understanding of climate change by the public (Butler and Pidgeon, 2009). Thirdly, we will expand our proposal on issues of translation, hybridization and projection in communication issues by examining how the post-normal science leads to rethink the weight and the impact of a hybrid communication in uncertainty context.
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hal-02120454 , version 1 (06-05-2019)


  • HAL Id : hal-02120454 , version 1


Andrea Catellani, Céline Pascual Espuny, Lavu Pudens Malibabo, Béatrice Jalenques Vigouroux. Post-normal science and environmental communication: Talking about risk, uncertainty and controversies. 7th European Communication Conference - Centers and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation - ECREA congress, Oct 2018, Lugano, Switzerland. ⟨hal-02120454⟩
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