Citizens in citizen science: a new route to participatory expertise?

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


For around three decades, public engagement with science and technology has been heralded as the answer to some of the critical problems related with public trust in science and, to an extent, in policy making in technical areas. Participation, engagement, collaboration, co-production or co-creation have all been used, more or less interchangeably, to refer to a context where lay actors take part in the production of scientific knowledge and public decision making. A new, rapidly growing entrant to this arena has been a set of initiatives and experiments taking the name of Citizen Science (hereafter CS). For many proponents of CS and for some commentators, CS offers a further key step in the attainment of a participatory approach precisely by making citizens into scientists. For others, however, though CS offers a vision of citizen engagement in scientific practice, it is fundamentally about incorporating citizens into professional scientists’ agendas and thus represents a backward step in the opening up of science to public participation.
It is against this background that I intend to discuss and analyse the contribution of CS to citizenship and, in turn, its role in scientific governance. If CS is to be a decisive step towards the constitution of what scholars in STS have called scientific citizenship, how is this contribution materialised – what forms does it take and through which processes? How do ‘citizen scientists’ see this notion of citizenship taking form, how do they perform it and represent it? Furthermore, CS has been enthusiastically adopted by citizens and scientists alike, both apparently unashamed of stepping into each other’s field: what one is led to believe by practitioners and promoters of CS initiatives is that there is much to be won from the blurring of previous boundaries and that former obstacles to lay/expert collaboration (such as specialised language, objectives, protocols, standards, etc.) are surmounted by technology itself. In this way, technology seems not only to be supporting these multiple ‘communities of practice’, but to be driving their development as well.
In this paper, I will analyse the extent to which CS is giving rise to a distinctive form of citizenship. Using a variety of recent cases from the field in the EU and the USA, I shall examine how the citizen is configured in CS practices, leading to an overall evaluation of the assumption that CS does indeed represent a further key step in the attainment of a participatory approach to expertise for contemporary societies.
Period4 Sept 20197 Sept 2019
Event titleECPR General Conference, 2019
Event typeConference
LocationWroclaw, PolandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • citizen science
  • citizens
  • Citizenship
  • participation
  • Governance