The Good, the Bad and the Perfect: Criticizing Engagement Practice

Alan Irwin, Torben Elgaard Jensen, Kevin E. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


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 aroun
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)118-135
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Criticism and Critique
  • Lay Membership
  • Public Engagement With Science
  • Sociology of Justification
  • Technical Democracy

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