Negotiating Community Engagement and Science in the Federal Environmental Public Health Sector

Abstract

In this case study, I use ethnographic data to explore how community engagement and science are deployed at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, with the goal of formulating an understanding of the personalized meanings of science–community relations for key environmental public health experts. In focus is the cultural discourse circulating in the agency that exposes the real concerns, beliefs, and attitudes of these scientists and experts vis-à-vis their community engagement experiences. Finally, I propose that critical attention to the place of power relations, knowledge politics, and environmental justice are fundamental to studies of toxic contamination where commitments to community engagement and quality science are joined to form a positive research goal and where attempts are made to improve the conditions of quality environmental public health service.