What forces are needed for social change in a knowledge society?

Mobilizing Science

Movements, Participation, and the Remaking of Knowledge

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Sabrina McCormick

"Mobilizing Science offers a sharp and focused analysis of the complicated relationship between scientists and lay-people in grassroots movements aimed at influencing policies on issues that have a strong technical component. McCormick grounds her arguments in two detailed cases that are extremely different in their overall contexts. Yet she is able to identify similar mechanisms at work, which have useful distinctions that are helpful in thinking about these types of movements more generally."
William Gamson, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Media Research and Action Project at Boston College

Mobilizing Science theoretically and empirically explores the rise of a new kind of social movement—one that attempts to empower citizens through the use of scientific research. Sabrina McCormick advances theories of social movements, development, and science and technology studies by examining how these fields intersect in cases around the globe.

McCormick grounds her argument in two very different case studies: the anti-dam movement in Brazil and the environmental breast cancer prevention movement in the U.S. These, and many other cases, show that the scientization of society, where expert knowledge shapes institutions and lay people are marginalized, gives rise to these new types of movements. Activists who engage in science often instigate new methods that result in surprising findings and innovative scientific tools; however, these movements still often fail due to superficial participatory institutions and tightly knit corporate/government relationships.



Read the Introduction (pdf).



"In this ambitious and impressive first book that is based on research on two continents, McCormick breaks new ground in the burgeoning literature on deliberative and participatory approaches to making technological decision-making more democratic. Among her contributions, she deepens the understanding of citizen-science alliances by exploring the mechanisms that make such alliances work and by analyzing the pathways that lead to their cooptation."
David J. Hess, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

"Mobilizing Science is a welcome addition to the growing body of research on public participation in scientific controversies...McCormick traces how activists and lay people interested in shaping public policy have engaged with the local, national, and international scientific and political communities to challenge the practice of knowledge production, influence public opinion, and redefine the scope of scientific research and activity.... McCormick shows how two different democratizing science movements have come to redefine the relationship between scientific expert and concerned activist, encouraging greater civic participation in the politics of science"
Science Communication

"What makes Mobilizing Science provocative and engaging is McCormick’s choice of disparate cases to guide her analysis: the Brazilian anti-dam movement and the environmental breast cancer movement in the United States.... McCormick’s greatest contribution to bridging science studies and social movements can be found in the opening chapter in which she lays out the theoretical groundwork for distinguishing DSMs [democratizing science movements] from other movements and for understanding how they engage in challenges to science."
Social Forces

"McCormick draws on [two] cases to discuss the formation of a different kind of social movement: democratizing science movements (DSMs). Such movements have become important in societies that prioritize those who have expert knowledge, and in doing so, allow the possessors of such knowledge to have the upper hand in shaping political processes.... McCormick employs her two cases to explore when DSMs succeed or how they become co-opted by political mechanisms that keep their political participation superficial. Summing Up:Recommended."



1. Democratizing Science Movements: Conditions for Success and Failure
2. The Environmental Breast Cancer Movement and the Scientific Basis for Contestation
3. Dam Impacts and Anti-dam Protest
4. Government Institutions and Corporate Interests: Instigating Movement Challenge
5. Democratizing Science
6. Democratizing Science as a Mechanismof Co-optation
7. Long- Term Struggles and Uncertain Futures
8. A Case for Making Science Accountable


About the Author(s)

Sabrina McCormick is Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy & Sociology, Michigan State University. She is the author of No Family History:Finding the Environmental Links to Breast Cancer.

Subject Categories

Community Organizing and Social Movements
Political Science and Public Policy



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