Toward a Democratic Science

Scientific Narration and Civic Communication

Richard Harvey Brown

View Inside Price: $65.00

January 21, 1998
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300067071

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In this important book, a leading authority in the field of social theory and communication shows how scientific practice is a rhetorical and narrative activity, a story well told. Richard Harvey Brown develops the idea of science as narration, casts various scientific disciplines as literary genres, and argues that expert knowledge of any kind is a form of power. He then explains how a narrative view of science can help integrate science within a democratic civic discourse.

Brown shows why social science knowledge is as much a rhetorical enterprise as is the social reality that it describes. He construes laboratory science, physics, ethnography, sociology, philosophy, and astronomy as genres, narratives, and other rhetorical practices, and thereby portrays science as a special kind of narrative discourse that generates theories and shapes their validity and significance. He next focuses on the political dimensions of science, including the politics of psychology in the United States, showing how power and knowledge shape, limit, and infuse each other. Brown argues that this linguistically and socially constructed character of knowledge does not undermine its truth value but rather reaffirms the moral status and political responsibilities of its practitioners. In one important chapter, written with Robert Brulle, he explores the movement for environmental justice in the United States, showing how ordinary people can use science as part of a larger civic narration. Brown concludes by discussing how the rationality of science can be preserved even as it is subsumed within a rational and moral civic discourse.

Richard Harvey Brown is professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"Brown is a gifted theorist and critic. He has a keen sense of scientific discourse as rhetoric and deftly uses dialectical method, represented especially by the joining of science and politics as narration."—Herbert W. Simons, School of Communications and Theater, Temple University

"An important book that speaks with great force to key issues in current social theory and sociological thought."—Norman K. Denzin, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"In this scholarly and insightful commentary, a respected sociologist expands on the thesis that science is just another literary genre. . . . Brown makes a good case for reducing science to just another mode, neither more nor less valid than any other, and reassures readers (scientists?) that this view need not undercut the truth value of science. . . . Brown removes science from its hegemonic position in the world of the mine, in a welcome addition to postmodern thought."—Choice

"Richard Harvey Brown has written a book that is required reading, not simply for those invested in science studies, but everyone committed to building a more democratic and just society."—Ronald Walter Greene, Journal of Communication