Literacy of the Present

Literacy of the Present? What and why? The idea behind the blog is to try and find out.

For close on thirty years I have worked in the field of science communication. I started so long ago that the field didn’t have a name back then. At first my own area of expertise was history of science but working from a history of popular science I began looking more generally at the media, popular culture and the relationship between experts and lay people. Much of what I read about on current popular science was couched in terms of “scientific literacy”. This is a very problematic idea (as I will discuss in a later post) but being problematic it does invite us to ask questions about what knowledge of science would be needed to attain a level of “literacy” and also, more fundamentally, whether knowledge is enough. I’m not so happy about using the term “literacy” but it is a word most people are familiar with, it’s a convenient shorthand, and it’ll do for starters.

More important for me is the idea of making sense. Science is the way that we make sense of the natural world. Culture is the way that we make sense of the social, economic and political world (including making sense of science). But more than that, we have to make it make sense – and that is true whether it is the natural world or the social world. What really interests me is how we make sense of the world around us (making sense of how we make it make sense).

So, if we take “literacy” to mean this idea of making sense then what knowledges would be needed to help us make sense of the present and, again, is knowledge enough? An understanding of science and technology would have to be somewhere in the mix, so too would digital culture and the media, but just to understand these we would also need to include globalisation, economics, politics, capitalism, history……. and, of course, we would also need these to make sense of the world beyond science and technology. If we are not simply trying to create a fresh generation of scientists, economists and historians what do we need to survive the present?

The idea for a Literacy of the Present has its origins in an educational context but I want to take it outside academia. Indeed, it may be that to survive the present we need to challenge traditional academic structures and practices. Starting a blog seemed like one small way I could do that.

There’s lots more to explain in later posts but please add your own comments and suggestions. I’m just trying to make sense of the world the same as everyone else. Maybe we can make it make sense together.


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