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Amateurs as Experts; Harnessing new knowlege for biodiversity networks
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Resources of the project

Butterfly EyeThe project is shaped and informed in part by the preoccupations within the natural science and policy worlds in which it is engaged, and in part by the demands of carrying out an anthropological/sociological study of such a domain.

From the policy perspective, the kind of attempts to broaden participation and frameworks of knowledge that we can observe happening within the Natural History Museum often have a predominantly instrumental aim, signaling an attempt to improve policy implementation and 'delivery'.

For the Natural History Museum the forging of new policy networks (through facilitators attempting to enrol amateur / volunteer naturalists into the BAP process) and of new priorities for nature conservation (through increased attention to lesser known and lesser 'loved' species and to hitherto 'marginal' volunteer naturalist groups) constitute a departure from business-as-usual, warranting observation, description and analysis by social scientists as well as within their own communities. Thus there is an important 'reflexive' element of this study which involves both science-policy, anthropological and sociological communities as part of the research.

From a sociological perspective, moves towards the broadening of participation and inclusion in science-policy networks may be seen to have their roots in what has been described as the declining role of science in the rationalisation and legitimization of public actions (Ezrahi 1990). The drive towards greater participation in science and policy making may therefore be seen as reflecting a concern to broaden the social and cultural legitimacy of both contemporary science and policy making. This 'participatory move' presents many new challenges to scientific and other bodies and has come into sharp focus in the UK in recent years, affecting many public institutions including museums (see, for example, debates within the House of Lords, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and others). Sociological studies of new participatory mechanisms have contributed to these debates in the areas of the environment, health and medicine, and technology assessment (e.g.'ADAPTA'; Durant et al. 1998), and are playing key roles in shaping new participatory mechanisms themselves - a social 'technology' still in its infancy. Such initiatives may be observed alongside moves towards broadening the participatory embrace in many other contexts within and beyond the UK and Europe. This range of initiatives receives increasing academic attention and critique, the growing literature of which also informs the framing of this project (Cooke and Kothari 2001, Goodwin 1998).

In the context of the proposed study, where the focus is on creating inclusionary knowledge networks between amateur / volunteer naturalists and a formal UK policy process, a number of additional intellectual resources will be invaluable:

Looking specifically at conservation issues, anthropologists and sociologists have examined the close links between ecological knowledge, conservation and culture in both developed and less developed contexts (Leach and Mearns 1996, Furze et al. 1996, Posey et al. 1999, Toogood 1996) tracing conservation knowledges back to their (often colonial) roots and looking at the complex politics of agency, identity and livelihood that are brought into focus through decision making about the protection of land, species and particular habitats. Prominent in recent of these studies are questions surrounding 'participation' in conservation decision-making, including a serious re-evaluation of the value of 'local' or 'indigenous' knowledges (Posey 1999; Agarwal 1999; Ellen and Harris 1999; Pimbert and Pretty 1997). Such anthropological and sociological investigations of conservation offer an entry point for the wider consideration of theoretical debates about the constitution of 'local' and 'lay' perspectives and their differentiation from universal or expert knowledges, looking at how knowledges are constructed within and across cultural groupings and boundaries, and how some knowledges are empowered, others disempowered within specific policy discourses and contexts (Sharpe 1998). Studies with a similar focus in the wider 'environmental' domain have also been both productive and potentially of use to policy institutions (Wynne 1992, Harrison et al. 1998).

Second, a rich resource of historical studies, many dealing directly with the shifting definitions of lay and expert naturalists in the early 19th century, complements and informs the proposed investigation of the contemporary knowledge politics between amateur naturalists and professional conservation actors in the UK. Relevant here are historical analyses that have shown how, through processes of professionalisation in science, natural history came to be thought of as 'inferior' to the emerging experimental biology/ecology (Allen, 1976, 1998, Toogood 1996; Secord 1996). Further contributions show how contemporary debates about the benefits of enrolling amateurs into professional networks have also been played out in the past. Drouhin and Bensuade-Vincent (1996), for example, suggest that in the early nineteenth century, '[T]he difficulty was not to get the cultivators of natural history to work, since they volunteered and worked eagerly. Nor was it to gather reports, information and collections from them, since many local natural history societies included both volunteers of various degrees of training and a few paid naturalists, and were able to provide such materials. The main problem was that the cultivators of natural history formed an undisciplined crowd which the professionals would like to keep under their control'. Thus the history of science offers potentially rich insights into the sociology, culture and contemporary politics of knowledge in the area of natural history.

Third, the sociology of science and of scientific knowledge also contribute much to the questions we are exploring. Contemporary analyses of the way science is carried out today suggest that scientific knowledge is tending now to emanate from a multitude of sources, and is located in different kinds of networks and social and cultural spaces (Gibbons et al. 1994; Waterton et al. 2001). Indeed it is now argued that this needs to be the case for science to be 'socially robust' (Nowotny et al. 2001). At the same time it is recognised increasingly that attention needs to be given to the complex tensions that may be generated when different kinds of science are juxtaposed, or in attempts to harmonise the aims, objectives and methods of doing science, collecting and representing data (Bowker 2000). Resources in the sociology of science and scientific knowledge can help illuminate the subtle knowledge politics in which the Natural History Museum and others are becoming involved.




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