Modes of engagement
Reframing “sensing” and data generation in citizen science for empowering relationships
in Toxic truths

This chapter investigates an intrinsic ambivalence in the use of digital technologies by citizen science projects: the often-used “citizen sensor” metaphor can either mean a heightened capacity to perceive and articulate an alternative world view (and thus results in empowerment); or it can connote that the citizen’s capabilities are constrained to capture predefined environmental signals (and thus implies instrumentality). Drawing on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed alongside some of his later works, a new perspective on citizen sensing is presented that goes beyond epistemological concerns to address the types of relationships established with citizens, that is, their modes of engagement. Instead of obfuscating asymmetries in the relationships between citizens and scientists, it is argued that a Freirean perspective entails considering asymmetries as a constitutive and productive tension within a dialogical process of knowledge co-production. This dialogical approach enables the development of new methods and ethical-methodological criteria for citizen-generated data projects that are effectively able to empower citizens to leverage their realities, world views, and epistemologies – particularly those of marginalized and disadvantaged people and of the “global South.”

Toxic truths

Environmental justice and citizen science in a post-truth age

Editors: Thom Davies and Alice Mah


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