Criticism seems to be a recurring and significant characteristic of public engagement exercises – as reflected both in general political discussion and in the academic literature on public engagement with science. This article suggests that rather than being a distraction from the main business of ‘technical democracy’, criticism lies at the heart of public engagement and in that way should be seen not simply as an unwelcome and unanticipated by-product but rather as a key constituent. Taking inspiration from previous science and technology studies’ treatments of ‘bottom line’ moves and also from Boltanski and Thévenot’s sociology of critical capacity, this article adopts an approach to radical critique that explores its ‘dynamic-yet-patterned’ character. Building upon a ‘translation’ model, but also a framework taken from the martial arts, a reconstruction is offered of one empirical study of lay membership on scientific advisory committees. Conclusions are drawn concerning not only the analysis of critical dialogue around engagement but also the implications for democratic practice.
Social Studies of Science, 2013, Vol 43, Issue 1, p. 118-135
public engagement with science; technical democracy; criticism; sociology of justification; Actor-Network Theory; science and technology studies; techno-anthropology; Criticism and Critique; Lay Membership; Public Engagement With Science; Sociology of Justification; Technical Democracy