The Empowering Virtues of Citizen Science: Claiming Clean Air in Brussels
The governance and monitoring of environmental hazards—and of air pollution in particular—is often dominated by technical expertise and scientific knowledge. Approaches of this kind remove the issue from the public debate and democratic deliberation: citizens are de facto excluded from related decision-making and their knowledge about the problem is barely taken into account. This article explores the potential and limits of citizen science to challenge unfair frameworks of environmental monitoring and governance, inasmuch as it empowers citizens, by enabling three critical processes: gaining knowledge, gaining epistemic recognition, and building transdisciplinary coalitions. Empirically, this study is based on AirCasting Brussels, a Citizen Science project that unrolled in Brussels in the context of a mobilization for cleaner air to which it contributed. The analysis shows that citizen science has increased the ability of participating communities to scrutinize air pollution policy and to contribute to and influence public discussion about it, albeit with certain limits. Overall, as a counterpart to their fundamental right to participate in democracy, Citizen Science proves effective to strengthen citizens’ capabilities to do so in a meaningful manner.
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