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EGENIS seminar series: "Citizen-Led Science and Participatory Science and Technology Studies" Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (University of Exeter)

Egenis seminar series

An Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences seminar
Date25 March 2019
Time15:30 to 17:00
PlaceByrne House

Weakness and vulnerability lie at the centre of what we call Citizen-Led Science. Paradoxically the strength of weak knowledge production is to systematically start our activities and enquiries not with a position authority, or in the know, but in the margins of what we have considered possible, desirable and realistic so far. Citizen-Led Science begins in the what if? Nonetheless, Citizen-Led Science will hardly (if ever) become solely a thought experiment, a foundational principle is that it should be a matter of practice: citizen-led scientists learn by doing. Actioninside and outside laboratory settingshelps to reveal the boundaries, limits and unspoken rules of the status quo and scientific production. Intervention is revelation. Taking inspiration from Karl Marx’s famous 11th thesis, I argue that all interpretations are interventions, but not all interventions are equal. In short disrupting is not necessarily subverting, and subversion does not necessarily lead to justice.

Citizen-Led Science embodies a critique to Citizen Science projects in which scientists call the shots, and participants provide free labour in exchange for the ‘disinterested advancement of science’ (or at least a great dinner conversation). Instead we experiment with alternative forms of governance in which research participants, are co-designers, volunteers/investors and governors of the research project/intervention. Citizen-Led Science was born as a specific response to the dominant techno-political imaginations of the role that forensic science has in the pursuit of truth and justice in (post)conflict scenarios and humanitarian crises in Latin America. It is deeply rooted in the contemporary experience of Mexican families searching for their loved ones (38,000 disappeared according to the latest government statistics) since the ‘War on Drugs’ began in 2006. I support my argument with ethnographic insights product of seven years of research in Science and Technology Studies (STS) in Mexico and Colombia, and the creation of a unique DNA forensic database managed, co-designed and governed by relatives of the disappeared in Mexico since 2014. The creation of this ‘anomalous’ DNA database sheds light into the unexamined State-centric values and commitments embedded in contemporary forensic humanitarianism. My hope is that the eleven ‘principles’ of Citizen-Led Science will open up the contradictions, challenges and shortcomings inherent in trying to make other worlds possible.


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