Participatory Science: Democratic Utopia, Innovation or Social Imperative?

Editors: Céline Pascual-Espuny (IMSIC, Aix-Marseille University), Andrea Catellani (LASCO, RECOM, Université catholique de Louvain), Béatrice Jalenques Vigouroux (LERASS, INSA Toulouse).

In recent years, participatory research has expanded considerably in the context of renewed interest in forging links between science and society. While first centred on issues of research methodology, participatory science has evolved towards a comprehensive institutional approach. Today, participatory science programs, open science and crowdsourcing initiatives, action research, post-normal science and citizen science research projects are increasingly widespread. The work of John Dewey (1927), Kurt Lewin and Talcott Parsons (1965) and Paolo Freire — through his contribution to the development of community-based participatory research — laid the foundations of participatory science as a research paradigm characterized by significant researcher engagement, diversity of knowledge sources and a participatory framework which itself becomes a source of action.

Over the past twenty years, such research methodologies have posited the principle of knowledge symmetry and have sought to foster dialogue between so-called “scholarly,” scientific or academic knowledge, so-called “expert” or analogical knowledge and “experiential” knowledge (Gardien, 2017, Amaré, Valran, 2017). This movement, which originated in late 19th-century environmental science research (botany, zoology, geography) for which citizen-collected data proved to be highly valuable, has now become a global phenomenon.

Democratic utopia? innovation? social imperative? Participatory research raises questions about the value accorded to different forms of knowledge as well as the value ascribed to knowledge co-constructed through participatory exchange. Participatory science postulates that knowledge arising from the convergence of different cognitive worlds transcends division and allows access to a more complete understanding of societal phenomena (Le Crosnier et al., 2013, Amaré et al., 2017). Some scholars have also pointed out the social usefulness of participatory science and its profoundly political and action-oriented nature (Billaud et al., 2017).

Beyond these considerations, participatory research practices raise questions and issues surrounding scientific methodology, the usefulness of science in society, the place of researchers and the role given to laymen in the process of knowledge construction (Ravon, 2015, Callon, 1989, Bacqué, Biewerner 2015). Conversely, participatory research brings to the fore the issue of scientific research as anchored in social reality and as a response to social demands. Finally, the key notions of empowerment and participation, which are directly linked to participatory practices, have provided perspectives for research-based upon citizen engagement.

Such participatory approaches have had a significant impact on information and communication sciences. Some scholars have explored the processes of popularizing or translating scientific discourse (Yves Jeanneret, Joëlle le Marec, Igor Babou). Martin’s research (2007) focusses on issues of public participation in environmental decision-making involving native communities. By specifically addressing questions of transparency, dialogue and spaces for discussion, Martin’s work has shed light on the communicative processes used for reaching compromise through participatory exchange. Hamilton (2008) has worked on issues of convergence and divergence with regard to nuclear weapons and their environmental impact. Walker (2004) has studied environmental collaboration and conflict resolution. Philippe Roqueplo (1988), using the example of acid rain, has addressed the issues of stakeholder involvement, controversy and conflict. Nicole d’Almeida and François Allard Huver (2014) have developed a reflection on the dramaturgy of risk, while Bolin’s work deals with the history of meteorology and climate change as linked to public opinion (Bolin, 2007). Other studies have focused on how communication processes create conditions for changing perceptions of climate change (Bostrom and Laschof, 2007; Brisse, Oreske and O’Reilly, 2013).

More specifically, with regard to information and communication sciences, we seek to address the following issues:

  • To what extent does research carried out with laypeople rather than only with peers call into question principles of scientific rigour, veracity or validity?
  • How does co-constructed research articulate social needs as expressed by public institutions or local authorities with the principles of scientific independence?
  • To what extent is this type of research a reflection of researchers’ commitment, whether it be political or social? Is such commitment explicit, or should it be? How do researchers “recruit” non-scientific participants? What conditions do researchers impose upon participants to ensure that research is carried out successfully?
  • What discourses and communication devices are mobilized? What semantic and ideological constructs and what justifications can be observed? What “ethos” of the citizen (or amateur) researcher is created?
  • With regard to implemented methodologies, do the issues of transparency and communication become more necessary or more important?
  • What approaches have been developed to accompany action research?

Scientific committee (to be completed)

  • François Allard-Huver (CREM, Université de Lorraine)
  • Françoise Bernard (IMSIC, Aix-Marseille Université)
  • Nicole D’Almeida (GRIPIC, Université Paris Sorbonne)
  • Thierry De Smedt (GREMS-RECOM, UCLouvain, Belgium)
  • Amaia Errecart (LabSIC, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord)
  • Daniel Raichvarg (CIMEOS, Université de Bourgogne)
  • Philippe Verhaegen (GREMS-RECOM, UCLouvain, Belgium)

Review process

All submissions will go through a two-part review process:

  • submission of a 1500-2000 word abstract which should include a presentation of objectives and principal arguments, explain the originality of the paper and provide key bibliographical references;
  • for selected abstracts, a second evaluation will be carried on completed articles.
  • Instructions to authors are available on the journal’s website:

Proposals will be peer-reviewed according to a double-blind reviewing process. Abstracts should be sent by 15 April 2020 in Word (.docx) or OpenDocument (.odt) format to the following addresses:

Paper proposals and final papers (35,000 characters including spaces, footnotes and bibliography) may be submitted in English or in French. No commitment to publication can be made until the full text has been read.

Important Dates

  • May 2, 2020: abstract submission deadline
  • May 15, 2020: notification of acceptance or refusal
  • September 15, 2020: deadline for submission of the complete version of articles
  • December 15, 2020: deadline for receipt of the final version
  • June 2021: publication of articles in Études de Communication thematic issue n° 56