What is Critical Citizen Science? (A Dialogue - Part 2)

[The Royalist and the Nomad debate the emergence of a radical form of citizen science blending crowds, arduinos and a late 60's mind-set].


  1. royalist: When we last spoke, you conveyed a reasonable sense of gathering innovation around crowdmapping, open hardware sensors and the internet of things. I'm even persuaded that some communities will be proactive in their citizen science, not just enrolled in an establishment activity. Why pepper the whole thing with a mystical metaphysics about Royal Science and Smooth Science?
    nomad: Starting from the technical conditions of daily life, critical citizen science will come to question the nature of science itself. "The problem is not with science’s actual, particular positive claims; but rather with its pretensions to universality, its need to deny the validity of all claims and practices other than its own" says Shaviro, summarising Stengers. In the practice of critical citizen science, this challenge will be come inescapable.
  2. royalist: That's poppycock, old chap. Science is doing fine: and it's a real activity, not a rhetorical one like yours. I bet you can't give me the slightest idea of what your notions look like in practice.
    nomad: On one level, they look like an Arduino to iPhone galvanic skin sensor. Geo-tagging our emotions moves us from geography towards psychogeography. Science can cope with electronic signals as proxies for fear, but not with the networked consequences of dismissing the subjective. Unlike those of us who were scientifically trained, the next wave of engaged citizens hasn't been bullied into leave their amputated 'selves' at home.
  3. royalist: You're determined to open the floodgates, aren't you. Even your potential allies say that 'data credibility...will be the major challenge'. Give it up, before the whole enterprise is discredited by the mob's lack of objectivity.
    nomad: The gates are already open and the floods are already happening. You know we're already in a period of post-normal science. There's a pus flowing from the schism between science & society and PUS (Public Understanding of Science) is no cure. 
    royalist: Puns won't persuade. All you've shown me is technical toys and a schoolboy rebelliousness.  The scientific method is unassailable and you have no method at all. 
    nomad: Like the early hacktivists of Electronic Disturbance Theatre, the methods of critical citizen science can draw inspiration from critical performance (Boal). As  constructivism looks at how truths are produced through various processes and practices, we will have a constructivist carnival (Bahktin). We don't think that truth is merely a subjective, human enterprise either;  the practices and processes that produce truths are not just human ones, and we are making friends with the things.
  4. royalist: As ever, you and your kind are on the wrong side of history. It's not some hippie revival in the hackspaces that will win the day, far from it. The networks you rely on for your delocalised tinkering have already given birth to a new science; and it's name is Data Science; and its Data shall be Big.
    nomad: We shall not endure the operations that are perfomed on us. Saint Judith tells us that identity is an effect of performance not vice versa, that our identity is constructed in the actual sites of othering encounters (not forgetting that technology is also an actor). So we shall act. As our data is always ambiguous, we shall Glitch; becoming the discontinuities and unexpected artefacts in the big data you crave.
  5. royalist: More aesthetics and flowery rhetoric. Bravo. I'd rather ally myself with proven scientific practice, even if it occasionally means sipping tea with the military-industrial complex.
    nomad: Perhaps you don't know as much of your own genealogy as you like to think. The power of mathematical idealizations to describe physical systems grew out of 18th & 19th century work on dynamic systems. Sure it was a success; so much so that the core ideas of equilibrium & perturbation, of instantaneous physical states and time-invariant transformations between them, got generalised in to a world system (or rather, a system of worlding). What really worries you is the possibility that my chaos is more ontological than your order.
  6. royalist: Your love of chaos is what worries me. It's a good thing you know some interesting things about the Internet of Things or I would have walked away a while ago.
    nomad: Perhaps critical citizen science is where the Internet of Things becomes the Parliament of Things proposed by Bruno Latour. "Latour argues that modernity has systematically refused to consider the rights of the object, partly because of its systematic propensity to think in terms of subject/object dualism". Paraphrasing Shaviro, the point is not to say that scientific objects are 'socially constructed' rather than 'objectively true,' but precisely to get away from this binary alternative, when it comes to considering either scientific practices and objects, or the practices and objects of critical citizen science.
  7. royalist: Now you're saying that things are conscious??
    nomad: Not as such. But the idea of a Parliament is meant to invoke differing 'constitutions'; as Scott Lash says of the idea "Latour holds that this distinction between political representation and epistemological representation is one of the modern constitution’s tendentious dichotomies". You only need to recall our first conversation and the example of Harassmap to see how gender can make the subject / object divide a slippery one. Through citizen science, the Parliament of Things will become the Occupy of Objects.
  8. royalist: I've wasted enough time on this. I have EPSRC grant applications to fill in; I suggest you go back to watching internet memes on YouTube. 
    nomad: No doubt you dismissed the Harlem Shake as 'just a silly dance'. As Olga Goriunova said of new media idiocy:
    "new media idiocy does not present a new subject, it enquires into the changes to the process of subject formation and maintenance. New media idiocy enquires into the reformulation of subjectivity, into the new conditions of individuation. New media idiocy is false but authentic, and materialist in its relation to technical media. The ease with which it can switch from breakthroughs to meaninglessness is characteristic of network human-technical architecture at large and the software mediation of culture in particular. Creativity in the individual and collective process of becoming idiot produces phenomena that may be neither aesthetically brilliant nor politically very sound, but constructs forms of performance and craftsmanship that allow the inhabitation of the present, creating modes of living that explore the true through the false". 
  9. Harlem Shake (washing machine edition)
  10. royalist: The true through the false?! Stick to rapid prototyping your tinker toys and leave the policy work to serious scientists.
    nomad: The serious work is policy circumvention.
    royalist: Pardon?
    nomad: Legal noncompliance that is a strategic political response to a specific policy, law, regulation or court decision; that focuses on nullifying the effect of the policy; and that creates some non-excludable benefits.
    royalist: And all this while wearing lab coats, no doubt.
    nomad: Why not? Why not look to the example of white coated citizens weapons inspectors for responsible empiricism. In a horsemeat crisis, the critical citizen scientist packs their DIY bio and flashmobs the nearest Lidl. This isn't an idle fantasy; only recently, Madlab testers set up shop as  the Deptford Market DNA FoodLab.

  11. And take the example of a grassroots innovation like TrafficCOM. Cheap components like the Arduino Nano and an agile imagination combine as a DIY kit for traffic flow testing. Critical Citizen Science will join inventions like this with movements like Reclaim The Streets.
  12. We are Critical Citizen Scientists. Expect Us!