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The Role of Lay People in the Production and Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge
Michel Callon Science Technology Society 1999 4: 81 DOI: 10.1177/097172189900400106 The online version of this article can be found at:

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The Role of Lay People in the Production and Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge

ONE OF THE most routine observations about modern life concerns the rapid pace of technological change and the consequences of this for every aspect of society. Technoscience is pervasive; it invades daily life and consequently becomes the subject of heated debates and controversies over diverse issues such as, biotechnology and concerns about new reproductive technologies; advice on HIV/AIDS and safe sex; information technology and its impact on jobs, skills and the quality of life; pollution and hazards; global environmental change; medical problems, childbirth and contraception; food safety and

occupational health, etc.

The existence of these debates and the involvement in them of non-specialists are seen by some to be a glaring manifestation of a crisis of confidence vis-~-vis science and technology. Authors such as U. Beck (1992) consider, for example, that the public-in other words the uninitiated-mistrust science and experts because the latter have proved to be incapable of foreseeing and controlling negative consequences of science and technology. Whether they corncern the environment, public health or food safety, examples abound of unexpected effects which endanger society as a whole. Contrary to official discourse, it may be that science is not a public good, but rather, a public bad. From that point of view, the crisis of confidence could be explained very simply. It could be said that non-specialists take a rational decision not to trust the researchers and engineers who are unable to deal with the risks endangering society as a whole.

Michel Callon is Professor, Ecole des Mines, and Director, Centre for Innovation, 62 Boulevard Raspail, Paus 70005, France.

Sociology and

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Modern societies thus enter into the age of suspicion because the political and economic institutions guaranteeing the validity and legitimacy of science have been found to be in the wrong. I am not sure that this interpretation is an accurate one. There is no doubt that relations between specialists and lay people have been called into question, but what seems more problematic to me is that the issue is one of trust and of restoring that trust. In this paper, I would like to show that if indeed there is a crisis, it is that of the separation between science and society or, in other words, of the great divide between specialists and non-specialists. This boundary, patiently erected over the centuries, exists not only in institutions but also as models for the actors. And it is this boundary that is wavering. The great divide is challenged from all sides because it makes the construction of a collective in which technoscience can find its place, difficult if not impossible. In an attempt to understand this evolution and the crisis it spawns, I wish to focus on the diversity of possible modes of participation by non-specialists in scientific and technological debates. For the sake of clarity I shall distinguish three models. Each of them should be considered both as a convenient way of making a confused and complex reality intelligible, and as a reference that actors use when they reflect on practical forms of technological democracy. From one model to the next, what varies is the degree of involvement of lay people in the formulation and application of the knowledge and know-how on which decisions are based.

The Public Education Model


It is to this, the simplest and most widespread model, although probably the least suited to current challenges, that authors refer when they speak of the crisis of confidence in science and scientific institutions. It has the following characteristics:


Owing to its universality and objectivity, scientific knowledge is the opposite of lay knowledge, which is shaped by beliefs and superstitions. The former can triumph only through the total eradication of the latter. Not only must scientists teach the public everything, they also have nothing to learn from it. Science is a separate institution governed by its own norms. To succeed in its knowledge enterprise and guard against all forms

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of contamination, it has to protect itself from lay knowledge and take up position against common sense. The ties between scientists and the public are therefore indirect: they are the responsibility of the state, which represents citizens and their will, and of the firms which comply with consumers demands. Thus, science is autonomous but not independent; it is subjected to control by the public authorities and adapts to suit the innovation projects of firms. The public does not participate directly in knowledge production; it consists of individuals who, either as citizens or as consumers, delegate the satisfaction of their expectations and demands to intermediaries who are in direct contact with scientists. 3. Technoscience, provided the public authorities and firms fulfil their role adequately and play by the rules of the game (competition for legitimate political representation for the former, and competition on the economic markets for the latter), is a source of progress. 4. The crucial point in the model is the existence of trusting relationships between lay people and scientists. As soon as mistrust sets in, all relationships, as well as the balance between them, are threatened. This mistrust may have multiple origins, for example: scientists are unable to cope with the unintended results which affect the public in unexpected ways, or scientists are divided and reflect an image of an uncertain and controversial science. In its most extreme forms this mistrust may produce violent acts of resistance. Whatever the case may be, the true cause is the illiteracy and ignorance of the public which transform it into an easy prey for beliefs and passions. The only antidote to the poison of mistrust is to intensify educational and informative actions, which is why this can appropriately be called the public education model. This struggle for enlightenment against all forms of obscurantism is endless. 5. In this model the risks associated with technoscience (environmental or health hazards) exist in two forms: an objective and a subjective form. Objective risks are described and analysed by scientists who assign probabilities to certain events and identify risk factors. Subjective risks are those which individuals, and in particular, lay persons, imagine without any reference to attested and objective knowledge. The risk of a serious accident in a French or Japanese nuclear power plant is calculated, the

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tell us, and its probability can be considered to be minute. The risk perceived by the inhabitants of the neighbouring areas is, however, variable and may in certain circumstances be so high that it seems out of touch with reality. Just ~as they help to re-establish a climate of trust, so too educative and information actions move the perceived and objective risks closer together. Once the emotions and beliefs clouding their minds have been dispelled, the citizens or consumers are in a position to take rational decisions. Such decisions do not, however, exclude the existence of risks, for a society without risks is a stagnant society; on the contrary, they accept tnem knowingly. 6. In this model, the legitimacy of political decisions has two sources. The first concerns the goals that are set and depends only on the representativeness of those who speak in the name of the citizens. The second relates to the resources mobilised to meet these goals and is conferred by the scientific, objective and universal knowledge, which makes it possible to foresee the effects produced by certain actions. In order to be legitimate, a decision must have objectives approved by all citizens, but it must also be realistic, that is to say, it must not sell illusions and must therefore recognise the force of facts and come to terms with it. Political action is made of consultation (what do we want to do?) and explanation (what can we do?).


The Public Debate Model (M2)

The public education model (Ml) is based on the irreducible opposition between scientific and popular knowledge. No discussion is possible before superstitions, those assumed poisons of democracy, have been eradicated. This model, carefully maintained and reproduced, sometimes encounters setbacks when the underlying assumptions are invalidated, with the impossibility of restoring their relevance. This relative failure leads to the introduction of a second model, that of public debate, obtained by deforming and extending the preceding one. This second model proposes richer relations between lay people and scientists. An undifferentiated public consisting of individuals who act, depending on the circumstances, as citizens or consumers and can be distinguished from one another only by their level of knowledge, is

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replaced by-differentiated publics (depending on their conditions in life, their professional activities, their locality, age or sex, etc.). The latter possess specific, particular and concrete knowledge and competencies, the fruit of their experiences and observations which, when mobilised and debated in public arenas, enhance the abstract and inhuman knowledge of the scientists.
1. As in the preceding model, scientific knowledge has a universal value. By construction it is, however, incomplete and deficient, for its exactitude and generality are undermined by its abstraction and deficiency. Thus, the conditions of validity of knowledge produced by researchers are restricted to the rare and costly places in which the experimental conditions that allowed its controlled formulation prevail, i.e., the laboratory. If this knowledge were to apply and be reproduced in any place and at any time, it would be necessary first to transform society into a vast laboratory. What some have called the laboratorisation of society can, moreover, be witnessed in numerous other places. That is how the differences gradually disappear between a fac-. tory producing vectors for genetic therapy or a CD-ROM production plant, on the one hand, and a research laboratory working on similar techniques, on the other. But this movement cannot be total because reality always ends up overflowing, so that laboratory-produced knowledge cannot absorb the full complexity and richness of the world. A large number of anthropological studies have shown this shortcoming. B. Wynne (1987), for example, analysed in detail the interactions between shepherds living close to a nuclear reprocessing plant in .the north-west of England, and the numerous specialists responsible for monitoring its functioning and evaluating its impacts. He shows that the world in which the shepherds and their sheep live is so rich, so differentiated, complex and changing, that specialised knowledge never manages to work through it all. First the experts models were undermined by unexpected geological peculiarities, then-and on this point the shepherds knew far more than the researchers-the hypothesis that the forms of food and metabolism of sheep grazing in an enclosure are identical to those of sheep grazing freely, was suddenly refuted. Tired of resisting, the experts ended up admitting that their expertise was partial and that, to be realistic, it had to be

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completed by the observations and knowledge of the natives. This complementarity of universal and local knowledge, with the latter enriching the former, is also to be found in the testing of new drugs, where patients are capable of very subtle analyses, as in the case of phenomena of addiction to psychotropic substances. The competencies of lay people go much further than that: they include abilities to carry out sociological analyses which lead them, for example, to relativise the content of certain scientists standpoints by relating them to their professional or economic interests (is such-and-such, a researcher in favour of transgenic plants, not influenced by his position as scientific adviser to a major industrial group?). Scientists are, moreover, always limited by the narrowness of their specialty and are therefore as powerless as the lay persons when addressing ethical or economic issues. 2. Since science produced in laboratories is at best incomplete, at
worst unrealistic


and, in any event, incapable of accounting for complexity of the specific problems to which it is applied, it

is advisable to open the forum for discussion and deliberation so as to create the conditions of its enrichment. This requirement is even greater in problematical and controversial situations. In this model the absence of agreement between specialists is a call for debate and for external enrichment, and not the sign, as in Model 1, of a lack of maturity and a need for internal

deepening. As Wynne emphasises: when experts cannot reach a consensus, it is frequently because the laboratory is not enough to do justice to the diversity of conceptions and hypotheases, and to anticipate all the possible effects. To decide on the site for an underground laboratory for storing nuclear waste, it is necessary to explore not only the hardness and stability of profound geological strata, but also the full economic and social implications for the entire region. The solutions that were, and still are, imagined for opening
up discussion and consultation are numerous and vary depending on the country. In all cases they are, however, materialised in procedures aimed at broadening the circle of actors addressing the issue of technoscience and its applications. These procedures, even if they were not necessarily intended to do so, enrich the intervention of the public authorities and business. They replace an undifferentiated public, consisting of citizens

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anonymous consumers, by differentiated publics with particular and contrasting competencies and points of view. It would be tedious to compile an exhaustive list of these procedures; we shall mention only the most significant. Inquiries and public hearings are used to gather the opinions, suggestions and comments of the different actors or groups of actors who wish to express themselves. With the focus group method, used by public authorities and firms alike, a collective dynamics is created at the same time as a contrasting representation of viewpoints and interests. In this case, instead of individuals being questioned, several homogeneous groups are organised in relation to variable criteria, for the purpose of formulating their own arguments and recommendations. Local information committees, which have proliferated during recent years in France (in the fields of waste, industrial hazard or water management), constitute mini-parliaments where decisions and measures concerning particular territories or situations are discussed: knowledge, hypotheses, forecasts and arguments are compared and sometimes experiments are conducted. The consensus conferences which flourished in the Scandinavian and English-speaking countries, and which Japan and France are adopting, organise a strictly bound dialogue between lay people and scientists on themes of general interest. What is mobilised in these cases, more than local indigenous knowledge, is the irreplaceable capacity that non-specialists have to assess the political, cultural and ethical implications of certain research (e.g., genetic cloning) in order to frame it and limit researchers freedom. 3. These procedures, which establish public arenas for debate, tend to muddle the usual boundaries between specialists and non-specialists. These boundaries give way to the proliferation of divisions criss-crossing the scientific community and the public alike. Agreement is obtained through compromise, which most often is the outcome of complicated strategic games. In this model the light is not shed by a brilliant and self-confident science; it is generated by the comparison of opinions, knowledge and judgements which, being separate and distinct, are mutually enriching. The actors, rather than being forced to adopt behaviours and an identity in which they may not even recognise themselves, are in a position to negotiate.

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88 ▪

4. The crises which, in Model

1, are ascribed to a loss of confidence vis-A-vis scientists and science, can be explained in by lay people this model by the sudden expression of opinions which hitherto had no opportunity to be spoken. Silence is simply the consequence of the absence of procedures for allowing people to speak and to organise disagreement. The crisis of confidence, which may be reflected in violent claims, is merely the sudden, radical and dramatic expression of existing criticism. Formulated in private, such criticism was never able to be spoken in a public arena and was therefore inaudible. It stems from indigenous knowledge and assessments. To avoid a crisis, one merely has to allow its expression. 5. As in Model 1, reticence vis-A-vis technoscience is related to the risks it involves. But, unlike Model 1, the risks in Model 2 are not related to the occurrence of unexpected events from the outside; they concern the very identity of the actors. What Wynne shows so well is that the shepherds are no more pusillanimous than the researchers and are no more prisoners of their beliefs than the experts. What they fear above all is that someone else may decide for them what is good for them, and that such decisions would be taken without the slightest knowledge of their needs or wishes. Similarly, patients on whom new drugs are tested would like to express their opinions rather than being forced to behave in ways that are repugnant to them. Wine growers in the Marcoule region would like decision-makers to take account of the fact that the Japanese market may well refuse their wines produced close to a radioactive waste storage site. The risk of losing ones identity, through the refusal to take into consideration ones knowledge and the competence based on it, is the fear of lay people in Model 2. Here the antidote is not education but the opportunity to speak. 6. The construction of a public forum for discussion, irrespective of its form, structure and extension, profoundly transforms the process of public or private decision-making. Decisions taken in the secret corridors of power and applied to all without any discussion, are replaced by decisions which take into account the existence and diversity of controversial local situations. They provide the opportunity for the different stakeholders to express themselves, and establish a minimum right of access to information. In these conditions, the legitimacy of decisions

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relies essentially on the existence of consultation and open debate. This is as true for the firm that wants apprehensive farmers to agree on the validity of its project to spread sewage sludge, as it is for the public authorities who explore the diverse options for managing nuclear waste. This form of legitimacy has its own specific limits: it comes up against the thorny question of representativeness. Who should be included in the debate? Who represents whom? Model 2 is useful for avoiding scientists monopoly over speech but, once open, the question of representativeness is difficult to close. In Model 2 it is a permanent issue.


Co-production of Knowledge Model (M3)

In Model 1 the priority is on the education of a scientifically illiterate public. In Model 2 the right to discussion comes first because lay people have knowledge and competencies which enhance and complete those of scientists and specialists. Yet, beyond their differences, these two models share a common obsession: that of demarcation. Model 1, in a forceful way, and Model 2, in a gentler, more pragmatic way, deny lay people any competence for participating in the production of the only knowledge of any value: that which warrants the term scientific. In Model 1 the exclusion is total; in Model 2 it is negotiated, but in both cases the fear is that laboratories will be taken by storm by hordes of non-specialists. The co-production of knowledge model, Model 3, tends to overcome these limits by actively involving lay people in the creation of knowledge concerning them.

1. In this model the role of non-specialists in the production of knowledge and know-how is essential. In Model 1 the constant concern is to do away with local knowledge and beliefs; in Model 2, it is to take account of it only for the purpose of enriching official expertise. In the third model the dynamics of knowledge is the result of a constantly renewed tension between the production of standardised and universal knowledge on one hand, and the production of knowledge that takes into account the complexity of singular local situations, on the other hand. These two forms of knowledge are not totally incompatible, as in Model 1, nor are they produced independently from each

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other as in Model 2; they are the common by-product of a single process in which the different actors, both specialists and nonspecialists, work in close collaboration. 2. The notion of publics which are differentiated (M2) or undifferentiated (Ml) is replaced by that of the concerned group, a good example of which are associations of patients. These associations are groups of volunteers (patients and their relatives) involved in collective actions which are not reducible to the sum of individual actions. Moreover, they publicly affirm the existence of a peculiarity, that of human beings struck by the same disease, which endows them with a specific shared identity and distinguishes them from other human beings. In the dynamics of the production of knowledge and know-how concerning their disease, the members of these associations often play an active or even, in some circumstances, predominant role. Take the case of a group of patients suffering from rare genetic diseases, known as orphan diseases. Ignored by institutional medicine, these people organise themselves in order to exist in the face of powerless specialists who sometimes go as far as depriving them of the right to survive: leave them to die, dont get attached to them, theres nothing we can do, theyre condemned. To assert themselves and have their existence recognised, they naturally engage in what could be called a primitive accumulation of scientific knowledge: researching and identifying diseases; organising and actively participating in the collection of DNA; producing films or compiling photo albums designed to be effective observation tools for monitbring and comparing the clinical developments of the disease and establishing the effects of certain treatment; recording testimonies which transmit live experiences; and carrying out surveys among patients, which sometimes go as far as the publication of articles in academic journals. The patients active contribution is ni t limited to this basic accumulation which puts both disease and victims into the same field of objective knowledge; it goes further than that with, for example, direct participation in therapeutic trials and the evaluation of their results. In this dynamic the interactions between lay people-here, the patients-and specialists-here, doctors and biologistsare constant. Knowledge, from the most universal and general (e.g., on genes) to the most specific (e.g., the art and ways of

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dealing with a tracheotomy patient) is appropriated, discussed and adapted by a hybrid collective composed of patients and

specialists. This does not mean that there is no division of tasks within this learned collective. Laboratories continue to play a capital role since all the equipment and skills required for difficult and costly investigations are concentrated in them. But these laboratories are not separated from the patients; they work in close collaboration with them, caught in a constant flow of interaction and discussion. In the learned collective, each person has his or her word to say; complementarities predominate in a context where information is exchanged and the actions undertaken by different parties are closely coordinated. The patient, or rather, the group of patients, is an obligatory point of passage: it has had to become organised and to have its existence recognised, in order to become a research object in its own right. This process of objectification is, unfortunately, never complete because every time new knowledge is gained it favours survival and in so doing contributes towards the emergence of new questions and problems which stimulate the collective dynamics. 3. It is possible, in this model, to talk of collective learning, since the different knowledge is mutually enriching throughout the process of its co-production. What distinguishes this model from the preceding ones is obviously the existence of what we have called concerned groups. Being directly involved on a necessarily collective basis (each singular case can be dealt with only in comparison with other cases) these groups may, in certain circumstances, play a leading role in the production, orientation and evaluation of knowledge. They may, depending on their preoccupations, sponsor the state of the art on the subjects they consider to be strategic or, for example, decide on therapeutic trials and participate in their evaluation. The knowledge produced by laboratories is just as crucial as in Models 1 and 2, but it is framed, fed by the actions of lay people and by the flow of knowledge and questions they formulate. Whatever it produces is particularly rich and relevant since relationships are close and stable. The patients ensure that they are in a position to control the knowledge concerning their disease, and thereby gain access to the construction of their own identity.

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By participating in the collective action of production and dissemination of the knowledge and know-how concerning it, the
group does not experience its relationship with specialists in a mode of trust or mistrust since it is on an equal footing with them. Nor does it, as in Model 2, merely reaffirm a threatened identity; it participates in the construction of a new, reconfigured identity which gives it access to social recognition. The patient suffering from a serious genetic deficiency, by participating actively in the hybrid collective, creates a new identity for which s/he strives to achieve recognition and in which s/he recognises himself; for example, from being hardly human, with no existence, condemned by a weakness which ne tries to hide, s/he progressively transforms himself into a public being in his own right, the victim of an error in genetic coding, but in all other respects similar to his fellow beings. This constructed and negotiated identity, together with the knowledge and techniques comprising it, maintain a completely original relationship with science. In this case, genes are no longer external realities which impose their merciless logic on human beings reduced to little more than the consequence of a biological

determinism; they


collectively integrated, domesticated,

shared and manipulated. Thanks to them and to the research which helps them understand the modalities of the functioning and dysfunctioning of the genes, patients have a hold over their behaviour, their suffering and their fate, in short, their identity, and they induce the researchers and practitioners to share that control with them. 5. The legitimacy of this common enterprise, through which new knowledge and new identities are jointly created, relies entirely on the ability of the concerned groups to gain recognition for their actions. How can one develop this research devoted to a singular disease without financial resources, and how can resources be accumulated without the involvement of the public, that is to say, without the interessement and the enrolment of all those who are not directly concerned with the disease in question ? Either the concerned group is capable of this type of mobilisation and thereby legitimises both the research it supports and the new identity which that research enables it to construct bit by bit; or else it is incapable of doing so and consequently sinks into oblivion and non-existence. An example of

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possibility is the association against myopathy and the recognition achieved by the Telethon. Myopaths are no longer degenerates hidden by their families, but human beings like everyone else who are allowed to perform on a television set. An example of the second eventuality are the victims of saturnism who, found in the most underprivileged social milieux, are excluded a second time because they have neither the means nor the wish to have their difference recognised or to construct a new identity.
The cornerstone of Model 1 is the trust that lay people have in sci-

the first

entists ; that of Model 2 is the question of representativeness. The viaof Model 3 depends on the difficult conciliation between the defense of minorities, whose identity depends to a large degree on the knowledge produced, and the achievement of a common good which is not carved up by particular interests. As the example of genetic diseases suggests, technoscience contributes towards this possibility of conciliation. The recognition of genes explains the handicap and makes it possible to work on it, while simultaneously serving as a basis for actions which might eventually be beneficial to the majority.



Each of these models proposes an original form of production and dissemination of scientific knowledge which, in a specific way, combines the nature of the knowledge produced, the modalities of cooperation between specialists and lay people, as well as the conditions of effectiveness and legitimacy of the decisions taken. Each model may be considered both as an idealised description of existing realities and as a reference mobilised by the actors when they need to organise systematically the world in which they have decided to live. One of the consequences is that there is no reason for a one model definitively to replace another. It is difficult to imagine, for example, how particle physics could submit to Model 3 when, in order to succeed, it had to cut itself off from the public and work in the secrecy of its laboratories, behind huge esoteric equipment. On the other hand, the organisation and production of knowledge on problems concerning the environment, health or food safety could easily

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fit into Models 2 and 3 and the hybrid forums they organise. All of these issues imply an active contribution by lay people, either to enrich, complete and boost scientific knowledge produced in a laboratory, or to participate directly, at least on certain occasions, in its production. Each of these cases involves the intervention of the particular publics or concerned groups (for example, the populations shown by epidemiological surveys to be at-risk) who take action and who, by participating in knowledge production, struggle to define and
to furnish a satisfactory explanation for what some consider as the crisis of confidence currently experienced by technoscience. Contrary to what authors such as Beck maintain, there is no crisis of confidence in science, but a crisis of the regimes, in which the participation of lay people is based on trust or mistrust. These authors see the passage from one regime to another but make the mistake of analysing it with the categories corresponding to the regimes that disappear. One of the challenges for STS might be to understand more fully the functioning of Model 3 and to highlight the conditions of its diffusion, or more precisely of its

impose their own identity. This type of approach helps


(1992), Risk Society: Towards New Modernity. London: Sage Publications. WYNNE, BRIAN (1987), Risk Management and Hazardous Waste: Implementation and the Dialectics of Credibility. Berlin: Springer.

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