Those Who Get Hurt Aren’t Always Being Heard: Scientist-Resident Interactions over Community Water

Science, Technology and Human Values 29 (2):153-183 (2004)

Abstract

This study is about the interaction of scientific expertise and local knowledge in the context of a contested issue: the quality and quantity of safe drinking water available to some residents in one Canadian community. The authors articulate the boundary work in which scientific and technological expertise and discourse are played out against local knowledge and water needs to prevent the construction of a water main extension that would provide a group of residents with the same water that others in the community already access. The authors draw on an extensive database constructed during a three-year ethnographic study of one community; the data base includes the transcript of a public meeting, newspaper clippings, interviews, and communications between residents and town council. The authors show not only that scientists and residents differ in their assessment of water quality and quantity but also that there is a penchant for undercutting residents in their attempts to make themselves heard in the political process.

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Robin McMillan
Liberty University

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