Science Capital

The National Forum is using the concept of Science Capital to inform our work – here are some headlines about why we find it so useful.

Image credit: 2017 Cognitive

The case for widening the audiences engaged in science is compelling. Numerous reports and critiques have identified that – despite considerable effort – many groups are currently ‘under-served’ by public engagement.  Addressing this problem was one of the founding objectives for the National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM.

‘Science Capital’ is a concept that can help us to understand why some people participate in science and others do not. In particular, it helps shed light on why particular social groups remain underrepresented and why many people might not experience science as being ‘for me’.  The Forum is using the work on science capital to inform our understanding of how to increase the reach of our collective engagement activities.

A person’s Science Capital is like a holdall or bag that they carry around with them, into which they put all their science related knowledge, skills, and experience. This Capital is informed and developed throughout life, through exposure to different experiences at school, at home and in their everyday lives. A person’s Science Capital is made up from four key parts:

  • What you know
  • How you think
  • What you do
  • Who you know

People have different levels of Science Capital and this in turn affects their interaction with Science. Whether for example, they believe yes, Science is for me, or no, Science is not for me. It will affect their interactions with Science and Science related media, and their experiences at say a Science venue such as the Science Museum.

Professor Louise Archer and her team have identified eight dimensions of Science Capital that together comprise what you know, how you think, who you know, and what you do:

  • Scientific literacy: Knowledge, understanding and confidence of science and how it works.
  • Attitudes, values and dispositions: The extent to which science is ‘seen’ by the person as part of their everyday life.
  • Knowledge about the transferability of science: Understanding about how Science can be used in personal and professional life.
  • Science media consumption: The extent to which someone engages with science-related media.
  • Participation in out-of-school learning contexts: Participation in clubs, museums, fairs, exhibitions etc.
  • Family science capital: The extent to which a person’s family have science capital.
  • Knowing people in science related roles: The family, friends, peer and community circles that the young people have access to.
  • Talking about science: How often the young person engages with or is encouraged to engage with science.

You can find out more on the Enterprising Science website.