Session 3 Engagements in the environmental sciences

20th June, 16.15-18.15, Chair: Fabienne Crettaz Von Roten, Room Polivalente

When the Experiment is Part of Society the Laboratory becomes the Sideshow, Matthias Gross (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Leipzig; Institute of Sociology, University of Jena, Germany)

In much of the literature on the changing relationship between natural science research and the wider society the view is taken that it is built on activities in natural science laboratories and how these actively influence the wider society. Recent debates on geoengineering, urban planning, renewable energy testing, or aquaculture experiments suggest that increasingly it is the experimental setup in society that is there first, with the activities normally associated with a laboratory setting only being decided upon and implemented post hoc. Only certain elements of such a real world experiment are relocated to various kinds of closed laboratories to be dealt with in a more controlled environment. This is not only done through natural science work in laboratories but, for instance, also by inviting citizens to laboratory-like settings and round tables. Thus, the production of new knowledge by means of real-world experimentation amounts to a practice of relocating problematic and risk-laden issues to laboratories of justification – sometimes defined as such post hoc. The presentation will thus unfold the sociological notion of conceptualizing the real world experiment as part of society in order to critically highlight on what this could mean to democratically constituting citizens as part of “science” thus conceived. Questions of acceptability and democratic governance of such real world experiments thus have to cope with highly contingent issues that complicate conditions for responsible experimentation in and with society. Against this backdrop the presentation can be seen as part of a larger ongoing debate on a shift towards “democratic experimentalism” or “experimental governance” in public administration and European law. Empirically, the presentation is informed by several research projects on renewable energies and participatory planning.


What is between science and society? Chances and obstacles for a more inclusive approach – the case of shale gas and nuclear energy in Poland, Piotr Stankiewicz (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland)

For more than 10 years of the European Union membership, Poland has been facing new challenges related to science and technology developments, such as the never-ending debate about cultivation of GMO, the recent nuclear power plant construction projects, prospects of shale gas exploration or clean carbon technologies. Because of public concerns raised by these developments and their possible impact on many dimensions of social life there seems to be a clear need for an appropriate institutionalization of relationships between science, technology and society. Such issues as introduction of nuclear energy and shale gas exploration can also provide good opportunities to test the usability of existing approaches (like participatory technology assessment, technology governance, stakeholder dialogue) in new institutional settings as well as to develop and implement new perspectives on science and society relations.
However, this is not the case. Important technological innovations have been still introduced in Poland in the old, well-known technocratic, expert-based style, thus hindering the development of more inclusive approaches. The goal of this paper is to analyse the chances and obstacles for development and institutionalization of participatory/deliberative perspectives on decision-making in science and technology in countries like Poland.
The analysis will be conducted using the interest-groups approach combined with social fields perspective. An empirical data will be drawn from a research project conducted since 2012 on nuclear energy and shale gas exploration.


Technologies of participation in Water Plans in Portugal: what kind of science–society relation?, Sofia Bento & Oriana Brás  (ISEG University of Lisbon, Portugal)

Looking at the social, temporal, and spatial framings in the processes of listening and speaking in Portuguese water planning (2015-2021) is our proposition to understand the recent water planning experience using the lens of science and society connection. More exactly, our goal is to deepen knowledge about technologies of participation which theoretically entailed an improvement in the relation between policy, science and society.  We assume that participative procedures reflect tacit models about how institutions face science-society dimension. The procedures used in public participation perform very actively a specific notion of public and the way public institutions address the “social problem”.

In the EU, Water is legislated by the Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000) that demands the engagement of the public in the making of water plans in hydrographical regions. This directive has stimulated different transpositions in national law for each European country. Several studies have shown the varied manner in which European institutions have adopted administrative formulas for participation (Barraqué, 1995; LeBourhis, 2003). The intention of this paper is to go beyond the observation that innovation is lacking in public participation in the Portuguese water sector by advancing some of the new insights of STS on this matter.

STS newest contributions to the understanding of participation have underlined the need to envision participation in a broader sense (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2016). Marres (2012) suggested that an STS perspective can understand the specific engagement procedures and their relation to broader policy practices. Furthermore, we believe that contributions from Dewey (1925-27) and its notion of public, as a constructed entity and not a taken for granted object, can also open the study in a more comprehensive manner. Finally, the tripartite model from Callon (1998; 2011) questions the possibilities of the technical democracies through the degree of power from technical or scientific professionals and consequently the degree of citizen’s engagement in the knowledge production.

In the research we present here, we used an ethnographic analysis of the participative technologies adopted in recent (2015) sessions for public discussion of water plans in Portugal. Topographic aspects of the participation as the spatial organization and the time framing of the sessions illustrate a specific use of technologies of participation. Anchored in a formal format, participation revealed to be limited in the listening of society. Water sector uses a highly fragmented model of society disclosing epistemic and techno-material assemblages that maintain the water sector a closed network, distant from human values or others non-technical entities. Hence, if participative procedures can be looked as a social experimentation, the critique to a technical and technocrats perspective remains valid in this case.