A moment with our researchers - Ben McAteer

What interests you about marine social science research?

Growing up by the coast, I have always had an interest in the marine environment. The older I got I started to think about the social and cultural elements that it holds. It's a way of life for so many people, a really significant part of our society. As my knowledge of the planning field developed, I found the concept of marine spatial planning of particular interest and decided to examine pathways through which it can most effectively support conservation and community engagement. It is a topic that I feel is important, particularly as the environmental, social and economic challenges facing the marine environment are drastically increasing in severity.

Tell us about your PhD?

My PhD 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 planning. 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 planning 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. The findings of this study suggest that citizen science, should it realize its transformative potential, must facilitate pluralism and the contestation of knowledge,  as well as critical self-investigation.

How do you see the impact of your research?

I have published two research articles and one book chapter during my PhD, all within the field of marine planning. I have also presented work at national and international research conferences in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as being invited to speak to a research group at the University of Wageningen. Outside of academia, I have presented aspects of my PhD research to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and charities that support community engagement in environmental management. The findings of a survey that I conducted with citizen science volunteers was used by a local NGO to shape the participation structure of their latest initiative, whilst other organisations have taken the recommendations on board. I have also published several blogs with online magazines that have translated my research findings and conceptual arguments into practical solutions and recommendations.

Where do you hope your PhD will lead?

I hope that my PhD will lead to a career in academia, where I can continue to conduct research on issues and topics that are both important and impactful. I would also like to continue engaging with local communities throughout my career and with the experience and skills that I have picked up throughout my PhD.

What are your hopes for the future?

It's pretty clear that alternative solutions need to be found to ensure the sustainable future of marine environments. There is a need for more citizen involvement, democratic decision-making and education amongst wider society. My hope is that these objectives can be realised and that we can become confident in our ability to create prosperous and sustainable environments for future generations. Social scientific research will play an important role in this and I hope to be a part of it.

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