Citizen science

Authored by: Gwen Ottinger

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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This entry examines two traditions of citizen science. One, tracing its origins to amateur naturalism, involves ‘lay’ volunteers in projects designed by credentialed scientists with the goal of advancing basic knowledge. The second is driven by community groups organized to solve local problems, who see value in creating a quantitative basis for their local knowledge. This second form of citizen science, which may also be referred to as ‘civic science’, ‘community science’, and ‘participatory action research’, among other designations, exemplifies the idea of citizen media and will be the focus of this entry. Through the collection of monitoring, health and visual data, participants give new meaning and visibility to their experiences as part of their quest for social change. Drawing on my own research on air monitoring by communities at the fencelines of industrial facilities, as well as case studies from literature at the intersection of environmental justice and science and technology studies, I will demonstrate that social movement-based forms of citizen science are widely misunderstood by members of the scientific and regulatory communities, who attempt to array activities from traditions of citizen science on a single spectrum. By reducing grassroots efforts to their contributions to scientific knowledge, scientists undercut the emancipatory intent of social movement-based citizen science. In their misrecognition of grassroots efforts, we see the same patterns of appropriation encountered by other kinds of citizen media.

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