Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Visitor empowerment and the authority of science: Exploring institutionalized tensions in a science center
by Loomis, Molly, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2009, 184; 3385191
Abstract (Summary)

This research explored the relationships among societal, organizational, and visitor assumptions about learning in a science center. The study combined a sociocultural theory of learning with a constructivist theory of organizations to examine empirical links among the history of the Exploratorium (founded in 1969 and located in San Francisco, California), its organizational practices, and family activity at its exhibits. The study focused on three perspectives on science learning in a science center: (1) the societal perspective, which traced assumptions about science learning to the history of science centers; (2) the organizational perspective, which documented the ways that assumptions about science learning were manifested in historic museum exhibits; and (3) the family perspective, which documented the assumptions about science learning that characterized family activity at historic exhibits. All three perspectives uncovered a tension between the goals of supporting public empowerment on the one hand and preserving scientific authority on the other. Findings revealed this tension to be grounded in the social context of the organization's development, where ideas about promoting democracy and preserving the authority of science intersected. The tension was manifested in museum exhibits, which had as their task addressing the dual purposes of supporting all visitors, while also supporting committed visitors. The tension was also evident in the activity of families, who echoed sentiments about potential for their own empowerment but deferred to scientific authority. The study draws on critiques of a hidden curriculum in schools in order to explore the relationship between empowerment and authority in science centers, specifically as they are conveyed in the explicit and underlying missions of the Exploratorium. Findings suggest the need for science centers to engage in ongoing critical reflection and also lend empirical justification to the need for science centers to think in new and critical ways about whom the serve, as well as how and why they serve their audiences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ogawa, Rodney
Commitee:
School: University of California, Santa Cruz
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Science education, Museum studies
Keywords: CHAT, Exploratorium, Ideology in education, Informal learning, Institutional theory, Institutionalized tensions, Science centers, Visitor empowerment
Publication Number: 3385191
ISBN: 9781109497168
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