Robert Evans
Research in Genomics

My research into genomics has really been about public participation in science-related policy, with genomics providing the scientific backdrop to more sociological concerns with how different social groups understand and engage with specialist knowledge.

The initial research was carried out with colleagues in the ESRC funded Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (cesagen), where I worked with Ian Welsh and Alexandra Plows on a flagship project investigate the ways in which different publics engage with emergent medical technologies that rely on genetics. This research was then taken forward through the Talking Treatments project, funded as part of the QUALITI research methods node by the ESRC Research Methods Programme..

Genomics - Key Ideas

The cesagen research was premised on the idea that, just as it is important to understand the social and cultural conditions that give rise to scientific and technical innovation, so too it is important to understand the conditions that give rise to social and cultural innovation. Public engagement with science and technology is thus a crucial case study because it is the place where the 'science' and the 'society' come together. The aim of the ‘emerging politics’ project was to understand this process by tracking its development from a nascent ‘proto-politics’ to a more developed stage in which issues, ideas and identities become more clearly defined.

The outcome of this work raised some questions about conventional STS-type accounts, in which controversies are typically seen as debates between clearly identifiable actors who represent similarly clear interest groups, by stressing the importance of ‘latency periods’ in which movement actors identify the issues at stake and work to constitute a collective identity through which mobilisation takes place. One implication of this is that the majority of movement activity occurs before publicly visible mobilsation takes place.

The Talking Treatments project explored the potential role of social science, particularly qualitative and deliberative methods, in promoting public engagement with these emergent debates at an earlier stage. Using stem cell research and its potential role in the treatment of diabetes, the project used a three stage method to:

  1. Identify available treatment options and their desirability and risks through in-depth interviews with a range of experts (scientific, clinical and social movement)
  2. discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of the various options and rank them in focus groups of patients, carers and lay citizens
  3. organise a one-day deliberative workshop in which focus group participants and expert discussed a three of the available treatment options in more detail before making a recommendation about which should be given the highest priority.

The outcome of this work was twofold. In relation to public debates about stem cell research, it became apparent in both the focus group and the deliberative workshop that, although there is a general support for stem cell research, when it is listed in the context of other options, it gets a relatively low priority.

Secondly, and in relation to the role of social science in policy debate and research, the project provided a critical evaluation of deliberative methods, arguing that deliberation imposes a very high demand on participants in terms of discursive norms and substantive learning. The proliferation of deliberative and participatory events needs, therefore, to be managed carefully if such participation is to be meaningful to participants and not, inadvertently, crowd out more conventional (and arguably more robust) forms of qualitative inquiry.

Key Publications

cesagen project

Evans, Robert, Plows, Alexandra and Welsh, Ian (2007) ‘Towards an Anatomy of Public Engagement with Medical Genetics’, in Atkinson, Paul, Glasner, Peter and Greenslade, Helen (eds) New Genetics, New Identities, London: Routledge, pp. 139-156.

Evans, Robert and Plows, Alexandra (2007) ‘Listening Without Prejudice? Re-Discovering the Value of the Disinterested Citizen’, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 37, No. 6, pp. 827-854. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0306312707076602>

Welsh I, Plows A and Evans R, (2007) Human Rights and Genomics: Science, Genomics and Social Movements at the 2004 London Social Forum’, New Genetics and Society, 26(2) 123-35. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14636770701466816>.

QUALITI Node

Kotchetkova, Inna, Evans, Robert and Langer, Susanne (2008) ‘Articulating Contextualized Knowledge: Focus Groups and/as Public Participation?’, Science as Culture, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 71 – 84. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505430701872897>

Evans, Robert, Kotchetkova, Inna, and Langer, Susanne (2009) ‘Just Around the Corner: Rhetorics of Progress and Promise in Genetic Research’, Public Understanding of Science, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 43-59. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963662507078016>

Evans, Robert and Kotchetkova, Inna (2009) ‘Qualitative Research and Deliberative Methods: Promise or Peril?’ Qualitative Research, Vol. 9, No. 5, pp. 1-19. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468794109343630>

Other Publications

Kotchetkova, Inna, Evans, Robert and Langer, Susanne (2007) Public opinion as questions not answers: how citizens evaluate the therapeutic potential of stem cell research in the context of T1 diabetes, QUALITI Working Paper No. 1, March 2007

Evans, R J (2007) ‘Participation, Deliberation and Qualitative Methods’, Qualitative Researcher, No. 6 (Sept. 2007), pp. 9-11

Evans, Robert and Kotchetkova, Inna (2008) ‘Facilitation or Interpretation?: Qualitative Research and Deliberative Methods’, QUALITI Methods Briefing No. 2, May 2008.

Kotchetkova, Inna and Evans, Robert (2008) Promoting Deliberation Through Research: Qualitative Methods and Public Engagement with Science and Technology, QUALITI Working Paper No. 7, November 2008.


Last updated on 2013-11-23 26 November, 2010


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