What do we know?

  • Science festival organizers often create events with the goal of inspiring wonder, awe, surprise, and/or curiosity among attendees, thus giving emotions a central place in the production and reception of science public science communication.
  • Emotion work – i.e., the unwritten norms of cultures and subcultures that guide what an individual should feel and display to others during certain kinds of interactions – is a negotiated process. Science festival attendees may choose to engage in the emotional labor that organizers envisioned, or attendees may choose to actively resist these expectations.
  • Drawing on data from Copenhagen’s 2014 Science in the City event, Davies provides a thick description of the emotion work and “feeling rules” that are negotiated and ultimately resisted during the event. Although event organizers hoped to inspire curiosity, wonder, and surprise, attendees most frequently described science communication installations using unemotional, using an empty dichotomy of being interesting/not interesting.
  • Study participants also reported that much of their time was spent figuring out what they were supposed to be doing during each installation, resulting in negative emotions like confusion, frustration, and feeling excluded. Attendees entered science communication installations with unspoken expectations that organizers would tell them how to behave and what they should take away from their engagement – when these expectations were not met, negative emotions emerged and often resulted in participants feeling out of place or inadequate.
  • These findings underscore an important point for science communication professionals: curiosity and other types of positive emotions do not spring forth naturally. Instead, intentional effort is required to produce, negotiate, and actively resist attendees’ resistance to engaging in particular kinds of emotion work.

How do we know?

Data for this study come from observations, interviews with the event manager and organizers of six different science communication projects (n=12), and free-text questionnaires completed by attendees (n=23), with the latter focused on documenting attendees’ activities, emotions, and attention to each of six science communication installments that served as the basis for this work.

Where do we go to learn more?

Sarah R. Davies (2019) Science Communication as Emotion Work: Negotiating Curiosity and Wonder at a Science Festival, Science as Culture, 28:4, 538-561, DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2019.1597035 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2019.1597035