Exploring Citizen Science over Time: Sensing, Technology and the Law

Suman, Anna Berti; Alblas, E.C.


People over the course of history have survived by developing their ability to ‘sense’ their environment as an embryonic form of citizen science. With the emergence of modern states, governments have assumed responsibility for monitoring the quality of the environment, and progressively the practice and role of citizen science has changed. This review explores the different manifestations of citizen science over time, with a focus on its law and governance dimensions, reading this evolution as a critical analysis of the current discourses around citizen science. The evolution of citizen science throughout history and its transformation shows certain patterns that are highlighted in this article as ‘constant’ features, whereas other features are instead interrupted and reversed, and new ones emerge. We thus examined citizen science over time by asking what is really new about this phenomenon, focusing on constants—permanent features—and turning points—changes in direction. We argue that these dynamics are central to understanding the promises and perils of the practice, to fully grasping the forms of uninvited, reactive environmental citizen science and to scoping foreseeable future scenarios.