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Lecturer: Gwen Ottinger, Associate Professor, Department of Politics. Center for Science, Tecnology and Society, Drexel University 

Title: Getting the goals right: Reparative justice through citizen science  

Date: February 9, 2023 

Time: 12:00 p.m., MT

Location: CU Denver Building, 2nd floor gallery


Lecture Description

Professional scientists working on community-based research projects tend to focus on getting the science right. They’re thinking, perhaps, that the best thing they can offer communities confronting pollution or other environmental injustices is rigorous, iron-clad proof. On the contrary, I argue that too narrow a focus on proof can divert scientists from the more important potential of citizen science. Done well, it can repair relationships between frontline communities, polluters, regulators, and a polity that has found it all too easy to remain indifferent to local environmental harms. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research on community-initiated air monitoring at oil refinery fencelines, I give examples of how scientific investigation can reshape accountabilities, counter willful ignorance by the environmentally privileged, and restore hope to communities for whom abandonment has been the norm. I show how each of outcomes is integral to repairing the dysfunctional relationships that allow environmental injustice to flourish—even when a scientific study does not yield proof as such. Taking steps toward reparative justice should be the primary goal of environmental justice-oriented citizen science, I argue. A reparative justice orientation would redirect away from seeking proof for its own sake and toward creating long-term, collaborative practices of investigation.

About Gwen Ottinger

Gwen Ottinger is Associate Professor at Drexel University, in the Department of Politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. They direct the Fair Tech Collective, a research group that uses social science to promote justice in science and technology. They received a CAREER award from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the 2015 Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science for Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges. Ottinger was an ACLS-Burkhardt Fellow and a 2020-2021 Fellow at the Center for
Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In 2022, they were the Fulbright Research Chair at the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy at the University of Ottawa. Ottinger is working on a new book, The Science of Repair: How People who Care about Facts Should Work for Social Justice.

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