Citizen science: knowledge work and the labour of engagement

A/Prof. Matthew Kearnes1, Dr. Declan Kuch1

1Environment & Society Group, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW, Kensington, Australia


Citizen science projects form an increasingly significant component of the dynamic relationship between science and society. Whilst citizen science initiatives are commonly represented as a means to improve engagement between scientific projects and their constituent publics, citizen participation also forms a critical element of the invisible infrastructure of contemporary research. This is particularly the case in data-intensive areas of biomedical research where citizen participation is invoked in the characterisation, segmentation and transcription of large datasets. In this paper we explore citizen science projects engaged in the distributed interpretation of cellular imagery produced through bioscientific research enterprises. Developing Shapin’s (1989) notion of the ‘invisible technician’ – agents of epistemic and knowledge work which are present but typically rendered invisible in accounts of the scientific process – we explore the tacit labour relations invoked in data-intensive citizen scientific projects. We explore the transactions entailed in resolving the relationship between the affective potential of citizen involvement and the promise of ‘real science’. In closing we review the degree to which data-intensive citizen science conforms to established motifs of scientific method: selectively rendering some forms of labour visible whilst obscuring others; whilst at the same time providing a platform for political engagement and disruption.


Matthew Kearnes is based in the Environment & Society Group, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW and is a CI with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science & Technology (CBNS).

Matthew’s research is situated between the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and human and cultural geography. Matthew is an associate editor of  Science as Culture (Taylor & Francis) and served on the editorial board Science, Technology and Society (Sage) Matthew also co-convened  the 2018 conference of the Society for the Social Studies of Science.

About provides delegate registration, website and app solutions, and financial management for conferences, conventions and scientific meetings.

Terms & Conditions

All registrations and bookings are subject to our standard term and conditions.

Contact Us

Please contact the team at with any questions regarding the conference.
© 2017 - 2020 Conference Design Pty Ltd. is a division of Conference Design Pty Ltd.