Alan Irwin talk on Citizen Science and Scientific Citizenship (JRC, October 2015)

The EU Joint Research Centre in Ispra has recently released the recording of a talk by Alan Irwin at the Joint Research Centre as part of the STS “Contro  Corrente” series of seminars from 15 October 2015, with Jerome Ravetz and Silvio Funtowicz (famous for their post-normal science) as discussants. The talk, titled Citizen Science and Scientific Citizenship: same words, different meanings? is using the two keynotes at the Citizen Science Association 2015 conference (by Chris Filardi and Amy Robinson) as a starting point for a discussion about the relationships of citizen science to scientific citizenship.

If you are interested in the wider place of citizen science within the scientific enterprise, this seminar is an opportunity to hear from 3 people who thought about this for a long time (and their work influenced my thinking). It’s very much worth to spend the time to follow the whole discussion).

Two very valuable points from Irwin’s talk are, first, the identification ‘that the defining characteristics of citizen science is its location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet‘.

Secondly, the identification that scientific citizenship is having the following characteristics – focus on sociotechnical futures with specifically asking question about the relationship between knowledge and democracy; which highlights the political economy of knowledge and the changing nature of citizenship as practised engagement.

Also valuable is the linkage of knowledge, power, and justice and how these play out in citizen science in its different forms.

I’ll admit that I was especially interested in the way that my model of participation in citizen science was used in this seminar. However, having a blog is also an opportunity to respond to some of the points that were discussed in the seminar!

First, Alan Irwin note that scientific citizenship does not happen at the top level of participation but throughout the levels. This is something that I’m emphasising in every talk in which I use this model. As Silvio Funtowicz correctly identified, the model is (yet another) borrowing from Sherry Arnstein ladder of participation as I clearly indicated. However, it is wrong to put the value judgement that is at the centre of Arnstein analysis of participation into citizen science – there might be just as much engagement in volunteer computing as in ‘extreme’ citizen science.

Second, Funtowicz commented that the equivalent of ‘extreme citizen science’ in Arnstein ladder does not reach very high level of participation. I disagree. Arnstein top level is ‘Citizen Control, have-not citizens obtain the majority of decision-making seats, or full managerial power’. If in citizen science project we shift into more equal mode of knowledge production where the project is shaped by all participants, especially marginalised ones, and the scientists working as facilitators in service of the community, aren’t we at the same place?



5 thoughts on “Alan Irwin talk on Citizen Science and Scientific Citizenship (JRC, October 2015)

  1. Hey Muki,

    I think a challenge for me, is an emphasis on developing scientific citizenship and scientific identities alone. Citizen science in my experience, like other participatory practices, can support the social and community side – community development and community resilience. I wonder what scientists’ reflection on the impact of citizen science on them might uncover here, beyond developing their scientific identity.

    Also the drama of power and control just plays out in society and relationships and citizen science experiments – so at one point in time – who is in control might change – right now on my latest project the control is at several locations – some of which i may never be aware of… i wonder if its more an argument around science capital?


    1. Hi Erinma,
      I can see this challenge, but I would suggest that you see it as one way to discuss what citizen science is. The link between science capital and citizen science is an interesting one ( see the report by the British Science Association by Richard Edwards et al. as part of their Science Learning+ project ).
      What I do find valuable in this talk, and in Irwin’s work on the development of ‘scientific citizenship’ – (e.g. is that it helps thinking through the obligations of science to society.
      As common in citizen science, there are multiple goals and lenses that can be used – and as you know, I’m with you in focusing on the social and community aspects (though we then have to deal with the slippery concepts of collective action, community construction etc.) but there is a lot of value in looking at power, knowledge and justice – which is what this talk is about…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.