Independent scholar, cat addict, tattoo lover

We witness a rise of participative research in a broad range of academic disciplines. Moreover, the link between citizens’ participation in research and their participation in consequent policy making is being made. In the well-known ladder of participation in policy making, Arnstein (1969) distinguishes between manipulation, therapy (both forms of non-participation), informing, consultation, placation (three forms of tokenism), and partnership, delegated power and citizen control (three forms of citizen power). A similar ladder is presented for participation in research by Cornwall (2008), who distinguishes between co-optation, compliance, consultation, co-operation, co-learning and collective action. The technology of hubris (Jasanoff, 2003), in which experts and policy makers collaborate in a closed circuit, is being replaced here and there with a technology of humility (Jasanoff, 2003), in which experts, policy makers and citizens work together. An example of this can be found in the Wetenschapsvisie 2025: keuzes voor de toekomst (Science vision 2025: choices for the future), which the Dutch government released in 2014. Here, citizens too are invited to set the agenda for scientific research, next to representatives of science, government and business. Moreover, the document mentions the possibilities of ‘citizens as coproducers of science’. However, citizens are still more often consulted as laymen-with-an-interest than acknowledged as co-creators of valid knowledge claims. When they are invited to participate in the actual scientific process, their role is often limited to data collection (citizen science). There is still some distrust regarding citizens’ knowledge and analytical skills. Yet, for sociologists it can become fruitful to not just study society, but to also study with society. My paper focuses on how society’s knowledge about itself can be properly mobilized using the concept ‘public’. A public arises when an event occurs that has consequences which current institutions cannot handle, and the public, as the group of people facing these consequences, prepares new policies (Dewey, 1927). The public can be a very heterogeneous group with conflicting analyses about what happened and how to deal with it. As such, it is a knowledge arena, a researching public (Basten, 2010). Traditionally, sociologists work with a priori categories. Butler (2009) points to the risk that these run obsolete in modern societies and turn into zombie categories. As an alternative, the researching publics that come to life after an event can provide relevant new categories. As such, researching publics mediate between micro-sociology and macro-sociology.

This paper proposal has been accepted for the ‘Dag van de Sociologie’, May 27 2015 in Amsterdam. Read the full paper here.