Sumitted for the International Summer School on Open Science 2020 – San Sebastián (accepted)
As part of the Open Science transformation, Citizen Science is discussed as an inclusive, democratic way of knowledge production, committed to reshape the relation between citizens and scientists. However, there is no strict definition or theory what Citizen Science is or should be, subsuming designs as crowdsourcing of data collection or public participation in policymaking (Irwin 1995, Haklay 2013, Eitzel et al. 2017). Given the different approaches of Citizen Science initiatives, the democratic promise that comes along with it must be met with scepticism (Bogner 2012). Following the discourse of Citizen Science classifications, references to democratic norms and theory are mostly absent. Instead, participation of non-scientists becomes the key element in the conception of citizen science as democratic (Mueller et.al. 2012, Eitzel et al. 2017, Strasser and Haklay 2018). However, studies of participatory technologies in governance show that participation methods are not politically neutral, functional tools (Voß 2017). Participation entails specific politics that can either foster or stand against democratic values (Kelty 2016).
This marks the starting point of my research. In order to get a better understanding of Citizen Science, I seek to explore democratic aspects in its politics of participation. To do so, I will link pragmatist theories of democracy (Dewey 1888, Frega 2019) with pragmatist sociology of scientific knowledge (Latour and Woolgar 1979, Strübing 2007). Especially Robert Frega and Michael Saward have recently offered perspectives in political theory that conceptualise democracy as social practice. Inspired by this, a pragmatist understanding of knowledge production can be interlinked with theories of democratic values and politics, qualifying the networks of power (Latour 1987) and patterns of representation (Saward 2006) that shape Citizen Science.
Against this theoretical background, I want to investigate the values guiding the interaction of citizens and scientists, how these values relate to democratic principles and in consequence, how they affect the process of knowledge production. Furthermore, I aim to place a special focus on the material and digital constellations that shape and guide participatory practices in Citizen Science.
Currently I am drafting the methodological approach for the empirical study. Based on the preceding reflections, I focus on Citizen Science projects that specifically emphasise their democratic approach. Therefore, I am reaching out to the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which has recently closed a call for Citizen Science projects focusing on democracy. The study is planned as multi-sited ethnography combined with participant and stakeholder interviews.