Where is the epistemic community? On democratisation of science and social accounts of objectivity

Synthese 194 (12):4671-4686 (2017)
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Abstract

This article focuses on epistemic challenges related to the democratisation of scientific knowledge production, and to the limitations of current social accounts of objectivity. A process of ’democratisation’ can be observed in many scientific and academic fields today. Collaboration with extra-academic agents and the use of extra-academic expertise and knowledge has become common, and researchers are interested in promoting socially inclusive research practices. As this development is particularly prevalent in policy-relevant research, it is important that the new, more democratic forms of research be objective. In social accounts of objectivity only epistemic communities are taken to be able to produce objective knowledge, or the entity whose objectivity is to be assessed is precisely such a community. As I argue, these accounts do not allow for situations where it is not easy to identify the relevant epistemic community. Democratisation of scientific knowledge production can lead to such situations. As an example, I discuss attempts to link indigenous oral traditions to floods and tsunamis that happened hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

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Inkeri Koskinen
University of Helsinki

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