Nature re-enacted: exploring the dynamics of public participation in environmental monitoring
Rodrigues, Maria Eugenia
Dept of Sociology/CICS Universidade do Minho Braga, Portugal
Monitoring has been largely excluded from the scope of sociological analysis. However, even a quick non-systematic look at today´s most prominent environmental problems (such as climate change, global warming or deforestation) and the continuous cycle of data gathering - analysis - policy implications they generate, should suffice to earn monitoring a place within sociological thinking in general, and environmental sociology and science studies in particular.
Furthermore, another side of environmental monitoring appears to have become the focus for new experimental developments in recent years. In line with major societal trends, among which accountability, the politics of risk and the spread of new technologies seem to predominate, various publics have become able to participate more actively in the monitoring processes. There is, of course, a long - but rather neglected - tradition of lay and mundane environmental monitoring. Still, these recent trends and the variety of technological resources available are not only enlarging the range of lay monitoring practices but also, at the same time, changing the nature of monitoring. Environmental monitoring is acquiring new, more complex and certainly more challenging dimensions.
Using empirical data from one case-study located in the north-east of England, this paper addresses some recent developments in the field of environmental monitoring. It claims that once the formal concept of environmental monitoring is unpacked into its regulatory, technical and scientific dimensions, one can then open it up to receive the multiple contributions afforded by publics. Furthermore, the detailed analysis of the lay monitoring practices uncovered in the case study demonstrate the emergence of a "culture of monitoring". The paper concludes that this public culture of monitoring is not simply the taking on of routine monitoring roles by individual citizens. Rather it gives rise to a communal interpretation of nature which, in turn, guides how monitoring and intervention in the environment are "performed".