During her year at CASBS, Gwen Ottinger will be working on a new book, Mending Fencelines: How Science Enhances Social Justice. In it, she tackles the questions: Why do activists engage in scientific inquiry when their research seldom yields conclusive proof? What is the value of research when proof is rarely enough to provoke political action? The answer, the book argues, lies in seeing scientific inquiry as a vehicle for repair. Drawing on case studies from the environmental justice movement, it shows how activists’ inquiry contributed to reparative justice, by fostering broader acknowledgment of the harms they suffered, helping establish accountable relationships between marginalized communities and corporate powers, and welding evidence to moral arguments for social change. Following activists’ example, Mending Fencelines calls on academics to create deliberately reparative research agendas in order to help further social justice.
Ottinger is associate professor in the department of politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University. Through her research, teaching, and public service, she aims to promote social justice in science and technology, and to equip STEM experts to recognize and dismantle structural injustice in their practices. Her publications include Technoscience and Environmental Justice (co-edited with Ben Cohen, MIT Press, 2011) and Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (2015 Rachel Carson Prize, NYU Press, 2013). Her research has been funded by a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, and she is an active participant in community-led science initiatives, including airwatchbayarea.org and Public Lab’s bucket monitor project. In 2020-21, Ottinger is an ACLS Burkhardt Fellow at CASBS.
You can read more about her work at fairtechcollective.org.