Panel 45

Questioning institutional science and expertise supporting complementary, alternative, or refused knowledge

Organizers: Federico Neresini (1); Maria Carmela Agodi (2); Paolo Volontè (3)

1: University of Padova, Italy; 2: University of Napoli - Federico II; 3: Politecnico di Milano

Topics: Health policies, governance and practices in a postpandemic era; Knowledge co-creation, citizens science, co-design processes, material publics and grassroot innovation

Keywords: refused knowledge, knowledge claims, challenging institutional science, expertise

Scientific communities and epistemic institutions seem to be under siege, as fake news and conspiracy theories are undermining the very “core set” of science. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how this phenomenon is particularly relevant in biomedical domains and in the field of public health at large; at the same time, current cultural perspectives questioning the monopoly of science are strongly stigmatized by various academics and public commentators, supporting the idea that “anti-scientific” theories are irrational and dangerous and must be opposed in order to preserve public health, democracies, and the wellbeing of our societies.

These contemporary forms of contesting the epistemic legitimacy of technoscientific expertise have attracted the attention of STS scholars and related research fields, for example in order to analyze the intertwining between such social processes and democracy in the context of the so-called “post-truth era”, to study the crisis of technoscientific expertise to reflect on their possible overlapping with conspiracy theories as well as the political appropriations of these contestations by different and sometime opposing parts.

On this basis, the panel aims at exploring how the criticisms of scientific knowledge and expertise, especially during pandemic times, take the form of social worlds shaping and sharing what can be labelled as “refused knowledge” (RK), i.e. a body of knowledge partially or totally refused by institutional and scientific authorities.

We want to address how such criticisms give birth to social worlds composed by humans and non-humans, including (media) technologies as well as by segments of scientific communities and their opponents; how actors are enrolled within those social worlds and how parts of social worlds can be re-assembled to form a new one; how a social world can achieve temporary stability, shaping and sharing RK.

We therefore encourage STS scholars as well as social scientists in general to submit theoretically, empirically, and/or methodologically oriented contribution that aim at exploring:

  • the assembling or re-assembling of groups, communities or movements that contrast scientific claims;
  • arguments leveraged to support and spread RK, e.g. by linking the un-appropriateness of science to the conflicts of interest caused by the relationship with Big Pharma and the “establishment”;
  • the role of such RK within the political arena and the public sphere at large;
  • ways of contesting RK, e.g. by associating it to cognitive biases, ideologies, and interests;
  • epistemological implications of mobilizing the “symmetry principle” to study RK claims and related social phenomena;
  • the emergence, organization and practices of RK-based communities and how they are framed in the public sphere discourses;
  • any other aspect deemed to be relevant for a better understanding of RK, RK-based social formations and their implications within the so-called post-truth era.