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Dr. Ben McAteer

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Ben is a Research Fellow from the north coast of Ireland. He began his PhD at Queen's University Belfast in 2017 and successfully defended his thesis in 2021. The study, which was supervised by Dr. Wesley Flannery and Prof. Brendan Murtagh, investigated the transformative potential of marine citizen science and was funded by the Department for Economy. Ben is interested in participatory research and the manner in which it can support more engaged forms of public participation in marine governance regimes. Although citizen science is far from a new form of knowledge participation, its capacity to instigate transformative change remains underdeveloped in literature. The focus of Ben's research is to correct for this limitation and to explore how citizen science can improve its critical perception of knowledge production processes.


Ben currently works as a Research Fellow on the MarinePlan project. Previously, Ben worked as a Research Assistant in the LiftWEC project, where he examined the social acceptance of novel and emerging marine renewable energy technologies. Ben has also assisted with work on the FAIRCoast project. Funded by The Research Council of Norway, the FAIRCoast project aims to facilitate more integrated governance of the coastal zone in Norway. Ben has also worked as a Research Assistant on the INTERREG project MOSES. This involved developing best practice in port and shipping governance, coastal transition management, marine and coastal planning and stakeholder participation. This culminated in a range of workshops being held with stakeholders of the examine case study, Belfast Harbour. These workshops involved the presentation of a scenario planning exercise, where alternative pathways to sustainable development were debated. Ben also carriers out teaching duties within Queen's University Belfast, conducting seminars, feedback sessions and lectures with Under-Graduate and Masters students in the Planning Department.


'Exploring the transformative potential of citizen science for processes of marine governance'


This study takes a critical approach to examining the participatory practice of citizen science and examines the role that it can play in reconfiguring processes of marine governance. Although citizen science is far from a new process of producing environmental knowledge, key social and transformative aspects of the approach remain relatively under examined. While this study examines the practical elements of how citizen science projects function, emphasis is placed upon questioning how an awareness of power arrangements could significantly strengthen the capability of projects to impact upon governance processes and move beyond the one-dimensional flows of knowledge production that other participatory processes fall into. This includes an exploration of what types of knowledge citizen science projects produce, what forms of power they interact with and the mechanisms that channel knowledge to decision-making levels.

To achieve the aims of this study, a Foucauldian approach is adopted. The theory of power/knowledge is introduced and used to highlight how and why citizen science often fails to instigate transformation, and also reveals how inhibiting barriers can be overcome. This leads the study to suggest that citizen science must become power-aware and function in a critically conscious manner. Critical consciousness focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world and particular arrangements, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions. Critical consciousness also includes taking action against the oppressive elements that are illuminated by that understanding. It is this active and critical nature that links neatly with the practice of citizen science. The findings of this study suggest that citizen science, should it realize its transformative potential, must facilitate both pluralism and the contestation of knowledge. More activist-like participation, independence from government and critical self-investigation are also key to generating transformative citizen science.




You can download an e-copy of Ben's PhD thesis by visiting Queen's University Belfast's Doctoral Thesis library.


You can read more on Ben's academic outputs and research interests by visiting his PURE account.


To contact Ben directly, get in touch via email -


You can follow Ben on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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