I just came back from a vibrant 3-day conference in Berlin by the European Citizen Science Association. Sitting at the gloomy hacklab of the autonomous social center ELI La Clandestina, I will attempt to outline my experience as an academic interested in public participation, but also as a citizen working with science and technology on a communal and political level.
Another example are the projects of the PublicLab – a worldwide grassroots organization that, if I may quote one of its members – Cindy, celebrates local innovations and where citizens design and deploy their own technologies for data collection or environmental protection.
Having said that, I can now put on my hat of a participant in science and technology with a couple of local communities in Barcelona, and share some of my personal thoughts on the way citizen science is currently been constructed and what practices citizen science is lacking in its debates. On the one hand, citizens science projects seem to evoke in my head the famous Putt’s law on the structure of a technocracy – “technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand” (Putt, 1981). I think citizen science is an overly top-down approach that is currently being proposed as the main governance model of our contemporary social imaginarium centered around participation. The reasons for such an approach are plenty, but I suspect it has to do with the way of organization of our modern institutions, whereby, as Putt reminds us, somebody has to manage the knowledge production process in order to generate results and innovation. If that is the case, than my question would be – are we seeing a managerial turn of the “scientist” profession, where the knowledge production process is devolved to citizens and professional scientists are mere facilitators or project managers?
On the other hand, I would like to point towards the historical relevance of two particular groups I would label as “citizen scientists” – i.e. hackers and amateur scientists. The former were particularly involved in the development and dissemination of information technologies and the resulting infrastructures, while the latter have been at the vanguard of science “in the wild” – away from institutionalized science, yet exploring and recording changes in their environments. Without these two groups, today’s vision of citizen science would have very difficultly taken its form.