[Air-L] Call for Papers - special issue of Science as Culture on digital participatory biodiversity science

Heaton Lorna lorna.heaton at umontreal.ca
Fri Mar 13 07:04:31 PDT 2020

Apologies for cross-posting

We invite submissions for  a special issue of Science as Culture on Digital participatory biodiversity science

Abstract submission: May 29, 2020
Invitation to submit a full paper:  June 2020
Full paper due: November 1, 2020
Publication online : latter part of 2021
Special issue in print : late 2022

Guest editors: Florian Charvolin and Lorna Heaton

We are living in an age where biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate, and the global environment is subject to increasing sources of stress. Naturalist collections are a key source of authoritative data that may be brought to bear on complex, multi-factored problems such as biodiversity loss, but their collection and curation requires considerable resources, both human and material. This situation has been seized upon as an opportunity to engage a larger number and wider scope of people in producing biodiversity data collections (Kelling et al., 2009). 

In this context, digital technologies play a pivotal role. Collaborative web platforms and mobile applications offer new possibilities for observation and recording, thereby (re)structuring amateur practice and facilitating the participation of the general public in scientific research. By allowing for consultation, aggregation and analysis of scientific data, databases and online collaborative platforms also enable new ways of working together and of (re)using data, thereby shaping conservation strategies and predictive environmental models (Bowker, 2000; Granjou et al., 2014). In short, these new sociotechnical configurations are changing scientific practice, and the very definition of what qualifies as scientific knowledge, as an increased variety of actors intervene at different stages of knowledge production and dissemination (Callon, Lascoumes & Barthe, 2009; Heaton et al., 2018; Nowotny, Scott & Gibbons, 2001). 

The increased networking of research between distant laboratories, scientific unions and lay-people raises questions about the constitution of biodiversity knowledge and its relevance to the field with respect to its geographical and ecological variations (Kohler’s landscape and labscape, 2002). It also presents a gloss of unity typical to knowledge infrastructures that blur the local operation of science (Bowker & Star, 1999), and its practical accomplishment embedded in sociohistorical context (Lynch, 1997; Pickering, 1992; Wynne, 1996). Traditional types of natural history expertise are challenged by these new forms of data collection, which rely increasingly  on photographs and mechanical validation. 

The past decade has seen a vast expansion in the number of participatory or citizen science projects, particularly those that integrate a digital component (Mazumdar et al., 2018). The creation of citizen science associations, and of a dedicated journal, are contributing to a rapidly growing academic literature. Yet, this literature remains primarily descriptive or prescriptive in nature. We suggest that it is high time for the humanities and social sciences to reflectively analyze changes in biodiversity knowledge, expertise and infrastructures as enacted in digital participatory science initiatives. This issue seeks to explore participatory biodiversity science projects with a digital component from a variety of contexts. It targets better understanding of their internal specificities (constructivist analysis of their assemblages) and, from an ecological perspective, the cross-fertilization of digital initiatives and their respective milieux. Themes that might be addressed include, but are not limited to: 

How do participatory science platforms reconfigure relations of expertise and authority, and thus power relationships (Dickel & Franzen, 2016)? For example, how do digital participatory science programs organize, express or facilitate particular modes of democratic engagement with environmental problems (Gabrys, Pritchard & Barratt, 2016; Couvet & Prévot 2015)? How do expert and lay knowledge cultures interact (Wynne, 1996) and how is the legitimacy of different registers of knowledge (Epstein 1996, Collins & Evans, 2007) negotiated in participatory digital sciences that require interaction between scientists (of different disciplines) and lay people (Millerand, Heaton & Myles, 2018)?  To what extent do new forms of networked expertise (Pfister, 2011) allow for knowledge co-construction or the integration of counter-expertise? 

Representation, visibility and invisibility in scientific practice. 
Science and technology studies scholars have long analysed the many different kinds of relations that are accomplished or dismantled in the work people do with scientific representational forms (Coopmans et al., 2014; Lynch & Woolgar, 1990). What are the key points of comparison between traditional naturalist ways of observing (Lynch & Law, 1990) and digitally mediated or enhanced ones? How are screen displays and inscription devices such as interactive maps and checklists deployed to make certain information accessible and encourage participation? Not only do data collection protocols condition the representation of the object and thus the collector’s relation to it (Charonnet, 2019), the resulting data represents phenomena in different ways. How do digital biodiversity platforms expose or enact the realities they make visible? As distributed networks, what do they consider worthy of being reported and what do they discard as insignificant information?  In particular, who are the “missing masses” (Denis, 2018) in the process of digitization? To what extent are lay contributors the new, invisible technicians (Barley & Bechky, 1994; Shapin, 1989) of biodiversity science?

In biodiversity, as in science generally, claims to universality rest on successful discursive linkages, coordinations and correspondences being made between disparate local practices (Bowker & Star, 1999). How do digital technologies condition massive participation and the treatment of local observations that become valid data as they are aggregated into global databases?  What issues of standardization (Latour, 1987, Star, 1989, Pickering, 1992) and generification (Pollock et al., 2007; Heaton, 2018) arise as the scale and scope of these infrastructures increase?  How do the chains of recording, treatment and circulation of biodiversity data relate to abstraction and the “dematerialization” and decontextualisation of naturalist sightings (Latour, 1995)? How do digital participatory science initiatives deal with frictions between the need to remain embedded in their local and societal conditions of existence in order to encourage participation (Haywood, 2014; Newman et al., 2017), and the target of interoperability and the production of reliable biodiversity data (Edwards et al., 2011)?

Papers targeting these issues should adopt a critical, reflective perspective. In pursuing how to conceptualize “the next generation of STS encounters with digital artefacts, environments and interactions” (Vertesi & Ribes, 2019), all papers should address the ways in which digital instruments influence or shape participatory biodiversity science, its expertise and vice versa.  

Deadlines and criteria: 
Correspondence to: lorna.heaton at umontreal.ca and florian.charvolin at gmail.com
Abstracts of 250-300 words should summarise an argument addressing the above questions and concepts.  Deadline: May 29, 2020
If the Abstract is accepted, the subsequent full paper will be due by November 1, 2020

Authors must comply with the SaC editorial guidelines for research papers; see two-page download, 
The guidelines will be strictly enforced, starting from the initial evaluation of whether the submission warrants external review.  

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