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Title: The common culture : promoting science at the Royal Institution in postwar Britain
Author: Cole, Rupert Pelham
ISNI:       0000 0004 7228 5906
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2017
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Through the prism of the Royal Institution (RI), this thesis charts the rhetorical trends in the promotion of science to the public in the postwar period, from c. 1943 to c. 1985. It will examine the RI’s cultural role; its relations with organisations such as the Festival of Britain, the BBC, the Royal Society and the British Association; and its involvement in postwar developments, from the rise of television through to environmentalism, the 1970s energy crisis and the early Thatcher era. The thesis traces the arguments used to justify the need for greater public understanding of science, and shows how these relate to changing cultural politics in the postwar decades. These include democratic, technocratic, declinist and cultural justifications for increasing scientific literacy among the public, the media, the civil service, and in government. Prominent clichés examined include the idea of a new ‘scientific age’, the need for fostering a ‘common culture’, C. P. Snow’s infamous ‘two cultures’ and Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat’. The thesis will show how these ideas, Snow’s ‘two cultures’ in particular, became institutionalised at the RI in the 1950s and 1960s, especially under the directorships of Lawrence Bragg and George Porter. A key turning point in the narrative took place in the late 1960s when a critical discourse around science, technology and the scientific establishment (an important term the thesis historicises) emerged and a so-called ‘crisis’ in the reputation of science was perceived. This development saw the (temporary) eclipse of ‘two cultures’ rhetoric at the RI and among spokesman for science. The 1980s, however, saw a return of the earlier postwar ideas underpinning Snow’s rhetoric, as the scientific establishment, with Porter at its head, launched a political campaign under the banner of the ‘public understanding of science’ to secure greater influence for scientists during the Thatcher administration.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available