Building Knowledge Infrastructures for Empowerment: A Study of Grassroots Water Monitoring Networks in the Marcellus Shale

  • Kirk Jalbert


This paper characterizes the activities of two nongovernmental environmental monitoring networks working to protect watersheds in the Northeast United States from the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. The first is a grassroots coalition of advocacy groups. The second is a large network managed by academic institutions. In both cases, knowledge infrastructures were built to distribute resources and to assist members in using data to make scientific claims. I find that the designs of these knowledge infrastructures can reproduce entrenched dynamics of power in ways that advance the agendas of some stakeholders more than others. However, findings also suggest that the ‘grassroots’ of infrastructures can tactically alter power relationships and redistribute resources to their advantage. By bringing a discourse of power and empowerment into the study of knowledge infrastructures, this paper offers a theoretical contribution to better understand the conditions by which marginalized stakeholders shape knowledge work to deal with complex scientific and environmental problems.


Keywords: Knowledge infrastructures, public empowerment, citizen science, environmental justice