Citizen Science: Probing the Virtues and Contexts of Participatory Research

  • Aya H. Kimura University of Hawai`i-Manoa
  • Abby Kinchy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Keywords: citizen science, citizenship, participation, social movements


Citizen science is an increasingly popular activity, from bird counts to amateur water sample collection to air quality monitoring. Researchers and theorists in the field of science and technology studies (STS) have typically applauded these efforts because they make science more participatory, providing an example of the democratization of science, or, at least, more equitable engagement between experts and the lay public. However, a broader review of the literature on citizen science suggests that participation is but one of many virtues that practitioners and observers find in the practices of citizen science. This literature review makes two interventions. First, we discuss the dimensions of citizen science that do not easily fit in a typology or spectrum of participatory practices. We identify seven different virtues claimed of citizen science: increasing scientific data; increasing citizens' scientific literacy and awareness; building community capacity for environmental protection; building more equal relationship between scientists and citizens; filling knowledge gaps and challenging official accounts; driving policy change; and catching polluters. Second, we consider the social and political contexts that often create contradictory situations or dilemmas for citizen scientists. Going forward, a robust framework for the analysis of citizen science would not only address the ways scientific data is collected and put to a particular use, but also situate the project in relation to broader structural forces of scientization, neocolonialism, globalization, and neoliberalization.

Author Biographies

Aya H. Kimura, University of Hawai`i-Manoa
Associate Professor, Department of Women's Studies
Abby Kinchy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Associate Professor, Department of Science and Technology Studies
04 Dec 2016
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