Ecologies of participation: Thinking systemically about science and technology by other means
Location M212
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 1


  • Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia) email
  • Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Matthew Kearnes (University of New South Wales)

Short Abstract

STS scholars have begun to break down normative assumptions about participatory practices to understand them as co-produced, relational and emergent. This panel opens up to diverse collectives of participation to explore their co-production and interrelations within wider systems and constitutions.

Long Abstract

Recent developments in STS mean that 'participation' has become a productive term for thinking about science and technology by other means. This has not always been the case; traditionally STS has often entertained relatively fixed conceptions of participation where the subjects and normativities of participation have been largely pre-given and assumed. Over the past decade students of participation in STS have begun to break down these 'democratic givens' to understand how democratic practices are themselves co-produced, relational and emergent. Forms of participation in science and democracy are being viewed as socio-material experiments and innovations in themselves, thus opening up the analytical frame to symmetrically consider diversities of participation, their construction, circulation, controversies and effects across cultures. This moves beyond discursive and deliberative public participation with science by usual means, to encompass distributed participatory collectives which perform science by other means in hybrid spaces of technology domestication, social innovation, grassroots innovation, uninvited participation, co-design, makerspaces, activism, citizen science, and so on.

While most studies still remain centred on situated case studies, masking important interrelations between cases and viewing them as somehow separate from systems of science and democracy, this session moves beyond a focus on discrete collectives to consider interconnected 'ecologies of a participation' and democratic innovations as part of wider systems. This brings different theoretical traditions in STS, political theory and cognate disciplines into direct conversation, including work on deliberative systems, socio-technical system transitions, systems of practice and co-productionist STS work on participatory collectives and constitutions.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Ecologies of participation and energy constitutions

Authors: Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia)  email
Jason Chilvers (University of East Anglia)  email
Tom Hargreaves  email

Short Abstract

This talk develops a framework for understanding ecologies of participation, connecting individual collectives of participation and broader constitutions. This approach is applied to a systematic mapping of diverse participatory collectives in UK energy transitions, 2010-2015.

Long Abstract

This talk develops a framework for understanding ecologies of participation, connecting together individual instances of participation and much broader constitutions connecting states, science and citizens. Responding to the systemic turn across several different domains of work around public participation, from deliberative democracy to social practice theory, we develop our own systemic framework which is compatible with our relational and co-productionist approach. In contrast to the very situated focus of most relational and co-productionist studies, we draw on constitutional co-productionist work in STS to theorise the energy system as constitution and understand its co-productive relationship with collective practices of public and societal engagement with energy. We put this framework into practice using the empirical example of participation in UK energy transitions 2010-2015, reporting on a systematic mapping of diverse participatory collectives. Our mapping illustrates the broader processes shaping energy participation and the UK energy constitution. These include particular practices or technologies of engagement performed in research and governance, as well as different spaces of controversy and negotiation around energy, dominant visions of energy publics, and the different ways in which participatory collectives are publicised and de-publicised.

Emerging Technologies and the Public Sphere

Author: Lotte Krabbenborg (Radboud University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper contributes to the notion of ‘ecologies of participation’ by arguing that in order to better align emerging technologies with societal needs and values, the development and societal embedding of emerging technologies should a be topic for debate in the public sphere.

Long Abstract

Better aligning emerging technologies with societal needs, issues and value is a cross-cutting theme in current innovation policies. An important role in this respect is assigned to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They are positioned as 'voices of civil society': knowledgeable in giving voice to concerns and wishes of society.

In this paper I argue that two problems arise when NGOs are positioned as 'voices of civil society'. First, NGOs do not always see themselves as representatives of civil society. Second, such a positioning underestimates the socio-technical complexity involved (Brown, 2009; Stirling, 2008). I will argue that the challenge is not how to involve more NGOs, even though they can play a valuable role, but the challenge is how to create an active public sphere that includes emerging technologies as topic for deliberation.

The public sphere, referring to an open, meta-topical deliberative system in society where people can engage in extended deliberations (reaching across space and time) through a variety of media (Taylor 2002; Parkinson&Mansbridge, 2012), in principle allows for continuous inquiry into and articulation of what is happening in society upon which better informed decisions can be made. There is as yet no tradition to include emerging technologies as a topic for deliberation in the public sphere.

Building upon empirical insights into controversies raised by the development of nanotechnology and biofuels, I will show how extended deliberation between technology developers and NGOs via e.g. Twitter and websites led to mutual learning. I will conclude by formulating tentative requirements with regard to an extended public sphere.

Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) in Germany: Challenges for public participation

Authors: Sabine Könninger (IMEW - Institute "Mensch, Ethik und Wissenschaft")  email
Kathrin Braun (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Starting from a broad concept of public participation including (un)invited participation, we will map out the spaces of civic participation in the governance of NIPT. How do participation actors construct problems and which problematizations get (not) admitted in which context?

Long Abstract

Prenatal genetic testing is the most important area of genetic testing today. Its routinization over the past decades has been termed an "invisible revolution" (Löwy); it has profoundly transformed prenatal care, however without stirring much public debate. Currently, another innovation, non-invasive prenatal genetic testing (NIPT), is about to transform prenatal care again. The paper will examine the problematization(s) of NIPT in Germany, starting from the assumption that, as a sociotechnical innovation, NIPT takes shape within specific institutional and discursive contexts. It will present some preliminary findings from an ongoing research project on processes and spaces of public participation in the governance of NIPT. Starting from a broad concept of public participation that includes civic participation in public debate, protest events, ethics committees, arms lengths bodies and more, we will map out the spaces where some form of civic participation in the governance of NIPT takes places. Referring to the Foucauldian concept of problematization and the sociology of critique (Boltanski, Thevenot, Chiapello), we are interested in the question how civic participation actors construct the problem(s) at stake, what type of critique, if any, they seek to raise, which regimes of justification they refer to, which constraints they face and how they deal with these, and which problematizations get admitted in which context and which not. In particular, we want to know whether, when and how actors have tried to reframe the problem at stake in such a way that non-technical, social or cultural innovations come into view as potential alternative solutions.

Overlapped modes of participation in El Campo de Cebada

Author: Jorge Martín Sainz de los Terreros (University College of London)  email

Short Abstract

In light of current debates around participation in urban planning, this paper draws away from defining participation; rather, it explores how different modes of participation coexist.

Long Abstract

This paper does not intend to define participation; it does not question what participation is, nor who (or 'what' in STS terms) participates. Rather, it studies the deployment of different modes of participation, their relationships and interdependencies in an urban site; in other words, it explores how different modes of participation coexist. To do so, it presents the case of el Campo de Cebada—a publicly-owned urban site in Madrid temporarily leased to a heterogeneous groups of people.

The aim is to tentatively understand how the specific ecology of participation of El Campo de Cebada is deployed, what actors account for what mode of participation, and how those different modes affect each other. In particular, two modes of participation will be discussed: (1) participation as an instrument for decision-making processes; (2) participation as a performative phenomenon (Marres 2012).

The paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork developed during 2015, and accounts for the ways in which participation is understood in everyday practices and how it affects the development of the politics on site. It depicts heterogeneous actors—i.e. neighbours, institutions, documents, collectives—and their participatory practices and relations. It also shows how participation emerges and is enacted by these different actors in different manners, calling—explicitly or implicitly—for a public common ground—i.e. deliberative or conflictual processes. The purpose of the paper is to show that participation is multiple and its overlapped and conflictual relationships are not necessarily problematic.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.