The Democratisation of Knowledge

How do different ‘publics’ participate in the production of scientific knowledge and policy-making? While the division between ‘lay’ and ‘expert’ knowledge has never been a binary one, over the last thirty years there has been a dramatic surge in public participation in policy-relevant science. Citizen scientists collect and analyse data about environmental pollution; patients fund and conduct their own research studies; activists do not just disseminate evidence, they generate it. Our research explores the practices, technologies and consequences of this ‘participatory turn’ in the environmental sciences, biomedicine, public health and education. Examining new forms of social-media enabled participation and interrogating the kinds of knowledge produced through these participatory activities, we ask how they are transforming traditional understandings of what counts as knowledge, its relationship to ethics, lived experience, and the ways we engage with the world around us.

Previous projects

Completed projects from our members and associate members within this theme:

  • Bodies of Evidence: Internet Use, Patient Activism and the Contestation of Medical Knowledge. This project explored the practices and consequences of patient activism in relation to a controversial theory about and associated treatment for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) across three different countries: the UK, USA and Canada.
  • Access Denied: The Roles of Clinical Knowledge and Moral Discourse in Mediating Access to Psychological Therapies (2011-15) formed part of a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in Biomedical Ethics. It was concerned with what kinds of evidence mental health policy employs, and the ways policy comes to structure practice. The research likewise examined how new kinds of barriers and facilitators to therapy introduced by policy come to be navigated by clinical psychologists.
  • Citizen Science initiatives and participatory research was part of a Beltane Public Engagement Fellowship. This project explored the opinions and experiences of all ‘participants’ in Citizen Science initiatives, with a view  to contributing to improved practice and a better understanding of the advantages (and pitfalls) of involving ‘citizen scientists’ in the production of scientific knowledge.
  • Closing hospitals: knowledge use and public engagement in disinvestment proposals. This project (2013-2017) was funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office. It explored the different knowledges brought to bear on controversial decisions to close local hospitals, with a particular focus on the invited and uninvited ways in which different publics are engaged with the process.
protest sign reads 'are you people'