Operationalizing diversity in research, knowledge and capabilities formation

Walker, Melanie Jane (2016). 'Operationalizing diversity in research, knowledge and capabilities formation' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This international panel, with contributions from South Africa, Spain and Ireland, explores diversity in relation to the production and ownership of knowledge and the formation of capabilities for human development change. The papers suggest that the gap between those who have social power over the process of knowledge generation and those who have not, constitutes an overlooked diversity gap, contributing to other forms of inequality. Thus Appadurai (2006) notes that doing research is a human right ‘of a special kind', - the right to the tools through which any citizen can systematically contribute to knowledge and to their claims as citizens; research expands the horizons of one’s knowledge and develops capabilities to inquire, analyze and communicate as an essential capacity for democratic citizenship. Moreover, Appadurai links this to the educationally crucial capacity to aspire, so that the capacity to aspire and the capacity for research are intimately connected. Overall, the panel papers acknowledge the tensions and challenges in universities as they are now, but nonetheless suggests working for more cognitive justice and wider inclusion in research processes as a form of ‘redressable injustice’ (Sen 2009). The panel papers propose that a diversity of voices is crucial in the development of knowledge which contributes to capabilities expansion and diversity in knowledge production. For justice, we need to include the perspectives of multiple actors, including how to frame the problem; social inquiry in its process and human development aspirations and aims could then expand people’s capabilities through participation and deliberation. The panel asks how and under what circumstances citizens can participate with university researchers, and be involved in developing the cognitive frameworks and capabilities for authoritatively addressing social and educational problems. It therefore considers the knowledge and research contributions to human development that are possible by universities if attention is paid to whose knowledge, for whose benefit, for whose capability expansion, and how research is conducted. The papers suggest that more democratic forms of social inquiry can call into question the strict separation and established hierarchy between scientific knowledge (intended to develop general categories) and practical knowledge (reduced to the local everyday level and consequently assumed to be prone to erroneous judgments)’. Indeed, to separate abstract social science knowledge from citizens’ practical knowledge allows technologies of governance that exclude some voices and position people only as consumers not producers of knowledge, or at least not of scientifically legitimate knowledge. This would be a matter of cognitive injustice. It is therefore ethically necessary to transpose scientific methodology to the field of deliberative democracy. If there is a way of conducting research that is aligned with these democratic principles of cognitive justice we think it is Participatory Action Research (PAR). However, even participatory ways of conducting research are not straightforward in balancing rigorous knowledge with inclusive participation; along a research continuum different PAR projects may be more knowledge inflected or more participation inflected, and the greater knowledge role of the university researchers may still be evident as we have found in our own work. It may also be that longer-term research relationships are also crucial for a truly inclusive process. Thus PAR researchers who are serious about social change should think through how they provoke action through research that engages, that frames social issues theoretically, that provokes those in power, that contributes to social justice campaigns, and that motivates people to change both the way they think and how they act in the world. How, in a democratic way, can we develop research action that is engaging for participants and, at the same time, reframe knowledge that could motivate wider audiences to reflect critically and change their way of thinking and acting? The intrinsic political understanding of PAR and the diversity of actors engaged make this way of conducting research challenging. We propose in the panel that PAR is founded on a multidisciplinary perspective of the co-generation of knowledge, which includes not only different disciplines but also local and contextual knowledge. PAR also considers methodological diversity and challenges the traditional division between qualitative and quantitative methods, which has proved unhelpful in understanding more complex and multidimensional problems. PAR is inclusive and creates mutual learning opportunities between universities and non-academic stakeholders without reducing expectations of theoretical and methodological rigour. PAR is also able to integrate and foreground the importance of social science teaching. In a university environment where teaching is less valued than research, PAR could be viewed as a learning opportunity built on real-life problems where theory and methods are challenged and also used to broaden understanding. PAR comprises four dimensions: 1) Action. It aims to alter the initial situation of the group, organization, or community in the direction of a more agentic, empowered, and sustainable situation and more generally advance the flourishing of individual persons and their communities. By and large, PAR practitioners are democratic reformers rather than revolutionaries. 2) Research (building knowledge, theories, models, methods, analysis). What this research tradition provides is a commitment to disrupt conventional hierarchies of knowledge production: who decides on the questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to theorize the world. 3) Participation, placing a strong value on democracy and control over one’s own life situation. PAR often involves social researchers who serve as facilitators of members of local communities or organizations. Because these people work together to generate knowledge to transform the situation, and put the results to work, PAR is a participatory process in which everyone involved takes some responsibility, and in which all are co-learners. 4) Cyclical component (cycles of analysis-reflection and action) for co-generating knowledge and powerful learning for participants about their own assumptions and practices. Awareness building, is fostered among the participants through self-critical investigation and analysis of their own reality. The combination of the co-production of different areas of knowledge through cycles of reflection and action, with processes of critical reflection and learning can make PAR an empowering methodology. We therefore argue in this panel for a more diverse approach to knowledge and to knowledge-making, underpinned by cognitive justice.

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