Community–based research and the democratization of science and technology. A framework for the evaluation of science shop work
This thesis investigates the democracy perspectives present in community-based research initiatives at technical universities. It focalizes on science shops as one particular movement within this field that from its beginnings in the 1970s in the Netherlands has shown an explicit claim of contributing to the 'democratization of science and technology'.
The most commonly used theoretical reference that sustains this claim is the concept of strong democracy which has been interpreted in terms of community-based research by Richard Sclove (1995). According to this perspective, the contribution of science shops to democracy is based on its commitment to a 'demand-driven approach': science shops make research respond directly to the needs expressed by citizen groups; this way, they simultaneously 'empower' these groups and promote the inclusion of their concerns into university research and teaching.
This democracy perspective comes short, however, in explaining science shop practice. The thesis explores the question whether science shop practice may enact alternative democracy perspectives corresponding to an issue-centered approach (Marres, 2005; 2007) and the principles of technical democracy (Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe, 2009). It does so by studying the work of the Science Shop of the Technical University of Denmark, with a particular focus on a collaborative research process in urban planning facilitated by this institution. A reflexive assessment of a pilot project for a science shop at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia serves to develop this exploration further.The analysis of the observed practices shows the analytical potential of the issue-centered perspective for a better comprehension of science shop work and its democratic relevance. It allows equally to orient the evaluation of such work. On this basis, a theoretical framework is proposed that conceives evaluation as part of experimentation. The framework invites to understand science shop work as a progressive and collective exploration, definition and redefinition of a critical role of universities in society. A list of nine 'axes of problematization' is offered to serve as guidance for structuring such experimentation. By this means, the thesis contributes to theory-building on the contribution of science shop work to democracy, at the same time as it offers the groundwork for such theory-building to take place between science shop practitioners and their peers.