A Typology of Female Online Science Communicators

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Niveen AbiGhannam, Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
This study explores the experiences of female online science communicators. Using the ecological model and a hetero-theory framework, it investigates the meanings that those science communicators give to their communication experiences, and the impact of individual, organizational, and social norms and expectations on the processes by which they understand and perform their science communication roles (seeking and sharing scientific information). Women in this study are found to communicate through four different modes of communication that vary across two dimensions: the level of sensitivity of the topics covered, and the focus of communications (self versus others). As such, four typologies of female online science communicators are found: (1) the Expressive/ Escapist (communicates through a self-liberating mode of communication); (2) the Advocate/ Normalizer (communicates through a mobilizing mode of communication); (3) the Edutainer (communicates through a reportage mode of communication); and (4) the Performer/Sharer (communicates through a showbiz mode of communication). Each typology operates under a number of shared as well as exclusive norms and expectations, some of which are in fact contradictory. Inconsistencies in external pressures indicate that female online science communicators are often targeted not for what they say, but for being the ones who say it. Women in different typologies are also found to react to such pressures differently, based on the meanings that they give to their communication experiences. Interestingly, despite the presence of a gendered culture governing online science communications, female online science communicators across different typologies still perceive having an empowering experience. Such empowerment, however, is contingent on their ability and determination to resist the perceived social, organizational, and individual pressures. Female science communicators thus need to be credited with more authority, especially from the scientific community, so that they can deliver better science communication experiences that can influence themselves, the field of science communication more generally, and society at large.