Forms of technical democracy: social experimentation, public debate and mobilization

Technical democracy and the engagement of concerned groups in scientific and technical debates and activities have been central in the CSI’s recent research agenda. This topic can’t be avoided when one focuses on the interlinking relationship between scientific and technical development, on the one hand, and the forms of organization of the social world, on the other. This theme is approached essentially from two angles:

– Forms and modes of engagement of “lay expertise”: current research focuses on different types of inquiry (scientific, legal, economic, etc.) undertaken by lay persons to reveal and qualify problems and causes in the collective interest. In the field of health, of particular interest to the CSI, the aim is to explore the role of various patient organizations in the structuring and articulation of different arenas of expression and intervention (from science to medicine, through politics and the media), and to study the emergence of new modes of knowledge production.

– Tools and procedures for the expression of concerned groups: research focuses on the devices and arrangement – institutional, procedural, technological – aimed at representing consumers, users and citizens, and at encouraging the involvement of the different collectives concerned.

Projects related to this theme

FiTeGe – Genetic Databases and Witnesses. Genealogy, Social Issues, Circulation : FiTeGe is a research project studying the genealogy and the uses of the French national DNA database (Fichier National des Empreintes Génétiques – FNAEG), as well as the controversies it generates. The project brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers in sociology, anthropology, law and forensic science, including two staff members from the CSI, under the coordination of Joëlle Vailly (IRIS, INSERM-EHESS-Paris13). FiTeGe project is funded by the National Research Agency (ANR) for the three-year period 2015-18.
The main issue of the project is the regime of evidence, which lies at the intersection of the scientific, police and legal spheres: what kind of knowledge led to the development of the FNAEG and of the tools used for genetic fingerprinting analysis? What is their supposed nature and what role do they play in defining categories of identification (suspect, potential suspect, person of a given origin, etc.)? How do they influence the way individuals and populations are governed? How do they come to circulate within the European Union? In which arenas are these issues actually debated?
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Roqstar – Risk assessment for Oxide nanoparticles: social impact and establishment of Quantitative Structure-Toxicological Activity RelationshipEndFragment : The Roqstarr project, which is in partnership with the École des Mines in Saint-Etienne, aims at developing “structure-activity” models in order to assess the risks of nanomaterials. The contribution of the CSI consists in redrawing the genealogy of this type of model, analyzing the type knowledge produced and their uses in the public regulation of chemical risk.

The market of the ITC and the new forms of mobilization: activists as experts, users and consumers : The thesis focuses on the practices of usage of internet and mobile technologies in different forms of mobilizations caracterized by a certain “desintermediation” in comparison to the traditional models: the activists become at the same time producers and consumers, objects and subjects, providers and users of the information. The actions of contemporary social movements sont mediated and diffused by the activists themselves. The thesis analyses the process of social and technical innovation experimented and deployed within several arenes of mobilization. One of the main questions of the thesis is about the impact of these social movements on the developpement of the ITC industries and the participation of “engaged users” (activists) in the process of innovation.
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The mining of the New Caledonian nickel, knowledges, governance and citizenship : In the last fifteen years, the New Caledonian mining situation has been transformed in response to the signature of the Nouméa Accords and to the setting up on the territory of two multinationals that have undertaken the construction of gigantic mining complexes aimed at extracting and handling the New Caledonian nickel resources.
These projects have raised a set of complex sociotechnical controversies which have brought out seemingly distant issues: biodiversity conservation, pollution, the involvement of local populations in the projects, integration of autochthonous knowledge in the decision making processes related to the mining sector and to environmental management, roles of the scientific institutions and of the regulators, distribution of wealth and mining income, citizenship, independence. Each of the projects was gradually built up in an attempt to integrate answers to the issues raised by the controversies into its technical, organizational and legal operation. The arrangements resulting from this process differ drastically, and thus provide a fascinating material for those wishing to understand how economy, technology and politics get entangled and how their entanglement gives shape to two alternative models for the future of New Caledonia.
This PhD thesis, in which both anthropological and sociology of science and technique approaches are central, proposes to study nickel as a political material intricated in a set of issues. The analysis of this set of issues enables a renewed understanding of the forms of citizenship, governance, and sovereignty in New Caledonia. The study concerns the constitution of autochthonous collectives and their relationship to the mining sector, the forms of involvement of local populations in the projects, the emergence of hybrid institutions aimed at improving the dialogue between various forms of knowledge, and the scientific controversies centred on mining – and environmental management.
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