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Politics of Citizen Science: The Continuation of Democracy by Other Means?

Wed, September 4, 4:30 to 6:00pm, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Four, Evergreen


Citizen Science is discussed as an inclusive, democratic way of knowledge production and decision-making, committed to reshape the relation between citizens and science. However, there is no strict definition or theory what Citizen Science is or should be, subsuming rather opposing practices as crowdsourcing of data analysis or public participation in policymaking (Irwin 1995, Haklay 2013, Eitzel et al. 2017). Given the many different practices of Citizen Science, the democratic promise that comes along with it must be met with scepticism (Bogner 2012). Especially since ‘democratic’ has become a general, legitimising term used by nearly all political systems in the world (Freedom House 2018).

In our contribution, we will examine different designs of Citizen Science initiatives and show that democratic values have been mostly absent in Citizen Science classifications so far. We will argue that, in order to get a better understanding of Citizen Science, the normative structure of proclaimed democratic knowledge practices should be explored using a pragmatist approach: It is to show networks of power (Latour 1987) and patterns of representation (Brown 2009) that shape the politics of Citizen Science. Drawing on pragmatist philosophy of democracy (Dewey 1888, Rorty 1990) and pragmatist sociology of scientific knowledge (James 1907, Mead 1938), we present a normative theory of Citizen Science that focuses on democratic values. Hereby we try to offer a perspective that distinguishes Citizen Science as practice of nonmodern knowledge production (Latour 1993) from crowdsourcing scientific work by means of digital technology.