Conceptualizing Multiplicities of Scientific Literacy from Five Theoretical Perspectives

There is an ongoing debate about the misunderstanding and mistrust of science. There seems to be an erosion of the understanding of science and engineering among the public. People seem much more inclined to reject facts and evidence today than in the recent past. To this end, we posit that the pervasive assumptions about science stemming from positivism can continue to deepen the public’s misunderstanding and mistrust. Such tensions can be contributing factors to inadequate communication and misrepresentation of the nature of science.  David Steele, a STEM Education Specialist at Alder, and his colleagues argue that the issue of scientific literacy is inseparable from this issue using their research that spans across theoretical paradigms.

In this book chapter, the authors discuss the selected theoretical perspectives (Positivism, Constructivism, Pragmatism, Critical Theory, and Poststructuralism), which we use to theorize, analyze, and understand the nature of science and the multifaceted meaning of scientific literacy. First, the assumptions of Positivism and its historical perspective on knowledge and science are discussed. Second, the assumptions of Constructivism are elaborated upon in the context of a research study investigating the secondary high school science teacher’s understanding of the nature of science as it pertains to the teaching and learning of science (Sell, 2018). Third, the tenets of Pragmatism are explained in the context of a study examining written argumentation to enhance middle school students’ scientific literacy in the classroom (Pauli, 2018). Fourth, the assumptions of Critical Theory are described in the context of a study that conceptualizes science as a mechanism for reproducing norms and practices of science as a culture (Steele, 2018). Last, the perspective of Poststructuralism is shared in the context of a study that explores subject positions of teachers, students, and material entities in relation to pushing the boundaries of how we should understand the subjective objectivity of science and thus deconstruct the notion of objective truth (Jeong, 2018). Because this chapter is a theoretical piece, we focus on presenting the important theoretical assumptions and tenets of each perspective with respect to conceptualizing scientific literacy. In doing so, we stand in solidarity to promote a better understanding of the multiplicities of scientific literacy by elaborating on its epistemological and ontological complexities.