From Public Engagement to Research Intervention: Analyzing Processes and Exploring Outcomes in Urban Techno-politics

Rider Foley, Richarch Rushforth, Tomasz Kalinowski, Ira Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Two years of observations and interviews provided evidence of injustices as state officials ignored calls for monitoring by residents at a toxic waste site in Phoenix Arizona. When federal investigators arrived, they found toxic vapours exceeded regulatory levels in 17 homes and businesses out of the 77 locations sampled. That prompted a shift among the research team from observation to research intervention. Two public engagements were designed to perturb routine interactions between residents living on contaminated urban land and the government officials and corporate agents managing the environmental remediation efforts. The framing of techno-politics offers insights about who was excluded from decisions by non-elected technical experts and why they were excluded. Techno-politics, when used to focus on the urban-scale, demonstrates how historical decisions and values continue to influence contemporary actions and behaviours. Further, the concept of infrastructuring reveals what social, legal and technical mechanisms were built and how those modules were woven into the complex socio-technical system. In this way, it questions underlying assumptions, calls attention to short-term decisions, and highlights the lack experimentation and rigidity of the techno-political regime. It became evident that government officials and corporate agents believe the current technology can contain contamination for a thousand years. Thus, the obduracy of infrastructure came into relief and the intervention research made transparent the ways in which power and authority were used to maintain the status quo and perpetuate injustices. While alternative visions can theoretically counteract techno-political arrangements, it remains to be seen if transformative changes will occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScience as Culture
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020



  • deliberative democracy
  • Intervention research
  • urban contamination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Health(social science)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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