Pro/am relationships in technical research

Agir dans un monde incertain: essai sur la démocratie technique by Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes and Yannick Barthe. Ed. Seuil (2001) (in french). This book addresses the relationship between experts and amateurs in today's current science debate exemplifying various topics (gmo, nuclear wastes) in France. Based on strong sociological bases it shows how science and society more and more diverged over time. There is now a big gap between the society and the scientists. Non-experts no longer trust science and fear news technical advances desrcibed as "progress" by engineers and scientists.

Now science is organized into three different moments the authors called 'translations':

  • translation 1: in which the research problem is transferred from the real world to the laboratory
  • translation 2: in which the research problem is explored by a research team through what Bruno Latour calls 'inscription' (i.e. written notes, drawings, napkin notes, printed measures...) and 'distributed skills'.
  • translation 3: in which the results are transformed into propositions brought back in the "real world".

The authors then claim that the 'civil society' might participate in each of those moments:

  • to help research problem formulation
  • to enlarge the research team and organize it
  • to help bringing back the results into the "real world"

Numerous examples are provided like how AIDS patient participated to AIDS research or french farmers helped the debate on nuclear wastes, raising new and unexpected questions. They emphasize the notion of "hybrid forums" where scientists and different 'amateurs' debated on the three research moments.

I think it's an interesting book to take into account in the pro/am debate. The book, through various examples, is a very interesting testimony about how researchers might be more connected with the other part of society.