by Laurence Simmoneaux & Jean Simmoneaux (Ecole Nationale de Fromation Agronomique, France)
The cartography of controversy approach is linked to the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and is currently employed in the context of Science and Technology Studies (STS). The aim of STS education is to help students develop their understanding of how society and science are mutually dependent. Encouraging individuals to take a personal position is considered as a major challenge for STS education: “In traditional science instruction personal opinion is not involved and may be actively avoided. STS instruction, on the other hand, seeks out exchanges between students to help them arrive at personal positions that combine scientific knowledge with moral responsibility” (Solomon, 1981, p. 78 quoted by Ratcliffe, 2001).
French sociologists Michel Callon (1986; 1990) and Bruno Latour (1989; 2007) have developed the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) in Science and Technology Studies, as this theory is able to accommodate not just the technical and scientific aspects of an issue, but also allows space to explore the effect of the political, legal, moral, ethical and other issues that need to be considered (Latour, 2007).
In the Actor-Network Theory (ANT), the aim is to characterize the interactions between society and (techno) sciences and more specifically how “actants” (human and non-human actors in a network) interact in a given network to contribute to the success of an idea or an artifact. Furthermore, an actant is identified by its performative actions, – what it says, its influence or how it relates to other actants. Latour describes performative actions as both talk and action and because these relationships are both material and semiotic.
Venturini (2010) has used these ideas to propose a “Cartography of Controversy” approach, that is accompanied by didactic techniques that enable one to explore issues and visualize the role of actants in a techno-socioscientific debate. Cartography of controversy has become a research method thanks to the contributions of a large research and teaching community. A cartography of controversy can give pictorial representation to Socio-Scientific Issues / Socially Acute Questions (SI/SAQ) with the identification of the range of participants (human and non-human “actants”) and their roles in the controversies. According to Venturini, “The economic inequities, the environmental crises, the bioethical conundrums and all the issues troubling modern societies are imbroglios of politics, ethics and technologies impossible to disentangle. In these hybrid situations, public participation becomes more and more difficult. To navigate in a world of uncertainties, future citizens need to be equipped with tools to explore and visualize the complexity of public debate. The purpose of mapping controversy is to contribute to the development of these tools through the creative use of digital technologies.“ [Controversy Mapping]
Building these cartographies of controversies can help students and teachers to unravel the issue, to understand its complexity, to identify the nodes of controversy, interests, alliances and oppositions between actants. This method has been used in France in teacher training as well as at the secondary and tertiary level.
Callon, M., Law, J. & Rip, A. (1986). Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology. London, England: Macmillan.
Callon, M. (1990). Techno-economic networks and irreversibility. The Sociological Review, 38(S1), 132-161.
Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope. Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (2007). Reassembling the social. An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Ratcliffe, M. (2001). Science, technology and society in school science education. School Science Review, 82(300), 83-92.
Venturini, T. (2010). Diving in Magma: How to explore controversies with Actor-Network. Public Understanding of Science, 19(3), 258-273.