Subproject 6

Evidence in Citizen Science

Between Non-Certified Expertise, Professional Supervision and Mechanization


Prof. Dr. Sabine MaasenDr. Sascha Dickel

Dipl.-Soz. Andreas Wenninger


The participation of lay people in research has long been considered difficult to reconcile with the self-conception of modern science. Under the heading of citizen science a socio-epistemic configuration is emerging that is in fact based on the involvement of lay people in the research process. This opens up new functional relationships, in which knowledge is coproduced, thereby testing new forms of division of labor and established roles in knowledge production. Digitalization is regarded as a technological driver of current citizen science, enabling participation through novel infrastructures and interfaces. Citizen science thus links up to science policy expectations as regards the democratization of science, as well as to a participatory means of meeting societal challenges.

While previous research on the subject focused on normative questions, the planned project puts epistemic problems and their social adaptation at the center of analysis. We ask how evidence practices in citizen science actually work –  in light of the involvement of actors who do not belong to certified scientific communities. (How) can this be considered as producing both credible and action-orienting knowledge, as the social circle of those participating in research now exceeds the scientific context? Prior research suggests examining three types of evidence practices, with which the specific socio-epistemic fragilities of citizen science are dealt with, namely 1) the attribution of non-certified expertise, 2) professional supervision by certified experts and 3) and the “technicization” of knowledge production which plugs deficits in expertise.

Since the research project aims to disclose the as yet little explored interaction mechanisms in a new field of research, a qualitative approach suggests itself. Eight typologically selected citizen science projects will be investigated multi-methodically by document analysis, focused ethnographies, and interviews, as well as being evaluated interpretatively. Subsequently, in a transdisciplinary workshop inciting the actors of the studied projects to enter a dialogue with external actors, we will analyze how evidence is constructed, maintained, or disputed. The project promises not only a better understanding of recent versions of participative knowledge production, but also insight into the constitution of highly technicized knowledge societies, in which participation is increasingly affected by epistemic questions, and is also increasingly associated with technology use and associated processes of technicization.