Co-Constructing Democratic Knowledge for Social Justice: Lessons from an International Research Collaboration


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Co-Constructing Democratic Knowledge for Social Justice: Lessons from an International Research Collaboration

  1. 1. Co-Constructing Democratic Knowledge for Social Justice: Lessons from an International Research Collaboration John Gaventa and Felix Bivens1IntroductionUniversities have a long history of supporting social change and social justice in the nations andsocieties where they are located. In recent decades, however, a changing political andeconomic landscape has threatened to isolate universities from societal debates on pressingissues. As universities find themselves in increasingly precarious financial situations, they areforced to sell their skills and the knowledge they produce to the highest bidder, rather than workwith those in the greatest need. Nonetheless, the same drivers which can cut off universitiesfrom society can also open parallel opportunities for engagement with communities and civilsociety actors. In the past decade, with the advent of knowledge economy, universities havealso reemerged as a vital force for change and development. Global networks have begun toform which actively promote universities as agents of change. Particularly in the global south,there is evidence of universities reasserting themselves as a force for social justice, and forusing their research and teaching to deepen democratic change.Such a move, this paper will suggest, requires universities to think not only about social justicein the larger world, but as also their own key role in shaping cognitive justice and knowledgedemocracy. Without cognitive justice - which focuses on whose knowledge counts – the largerstruggles for social justice will not be realized. And, we shall further argue, struggles forcognitive justice also include the need to learn and link globally with others in collaborative andparticipatory ways. As our problems become increasingly globalised and interconnected acrossborders and continents, the response of universities to these problems must likewise be globalin scale and understanding. Addressing complex problems from only one national, cultural andgeographic perspective is no longer sufficient. The struggle for social justice must be acollaborative and often international endeavor.1 This paper has been prepared in draft form for the conference on ‗Social Justice and the University‘,University of Tennessee, April 28 – 30, 2011. Thanks to Joanna Wheeler for her comments andcollaboration. The authors may be contacted at or 1
  2. 2. In this paper, we will focus on the decade-long work of the Development Research Centre onCitizenship, Participation and Accountability (DRC), a network involving academics, activistsand practitioners from universities and think tanks in seven core countries, with dozens of othersalso involved from an additional fifteen countries in the global south. The DRC took shape in2001, emerging out of questions of how respond to the growing failures of democracy to meetthe challenges of inequality and social justice in countries of the north and south alike. We alsowere concerned about the lack of democratic structures and accountability at the internationallevel, particularly regarding processes of globalization. In order to better understand andrespond to these challenges, the DRC aimed to produce new insights on various conceptionsand practices of citizenship and democracy in divergent national and political contexts fromaround the world. As we wrote at the time: If poverty is to be alleviated, new attention must be paid to the relationships between poor people and the institutions which affect their lives. To do so requires re-examining in differing development contexts contemporary understandings of rights and citizenship and their implications for related issues of participation and accountability.Ten years on, we have compiled over a hundred case studies which reveal a vast ecology ofdemocratic practices and ways through which citizens mobilize to claim their rights ( However, the DRC is significant not only because of the outputs we produced;we also realized along the way that we needed to build more democratic methods for producingthat knowledge. It is these innovative practices for co-constructing knowledge, across continentsand universities, that will be the focus of this paper. In particular we will hold up five lessons thatcan be learned from the DRC‘s work, which relate to the ways in which universities can workwith others in pursuit of social justice. These include: a) the value of collaborative, co-construction of knowledge; b) the importance of iterative ways of knowing which link differentforms of knowledge over time, and which ground the universal in the contextual; c) the multipleways of linking knowledge to action, at all levels; d) the value of linking research on democracyand citizenship to the pedagogies of democracy and citizenship and e) finally, the implicationsfor the role of university researchers in this process.Having highlighted these five aspects of the DRC experience, we want to then circle back to theoverall context in which universities are operating. We believe the lessons pulled from the DRCexperience have important and substantial implications for current debates about the role ofuniversities in society, offering us a new way to understand how universities can operate in aknowledge society, in a way that the knowledge we help to create is better suited to not only to 2
  3. 3. address complex global problems, but also—through the process of constructing the knowledgeitself—to empower the collaborators who have helped to create and develop that knowledge, inthe pursuit of cognitive as well as social justice.Locating the DRC in Debates on the Role of Universities, Social Justice and KnowledgeFrom the ancient Indus valley to 19th century America, universities have been strong supportersof social justice, using knowledge as a force for social change. South Asian scholar RajeshTandon has written about the 8th BC university Taxila (located in what is now Pakistan), whichhad as its motto ―service to humanity‖ (Tandon 2008). Likewise, America‘s rapid transition froman agricultural to a modern economy was largely undergirded by the massification of highereducation enabled by land grant universities like the University of Tennessee. In the UnitedKingdom in the early 20th century, institutions like the London School of Economics werefounded on the proposition that universities could aggressively support the development ofknowledge and government policies which could combat urban poverty. Even in this year ofpopular uprisings across the Middle East, we see young, university-educated people leading theway, using their knowledge and ideas to bring justice and change to their homelands.However, this capacity of universities to support change and to question power in the name ofjustice is increasingly curtailed because of changes in the political economy which upon whichuniversities depend. For decades governments have been reducing public spending on highereducation, and this trend seems to be accelerating in this new age of fiscal austerity. In the UK,universities have just this year endured a 40% cut in funding for their teaching programs. Asuniversities lose state funding, they are expected to become more market-oriented, brandingand selling their knowledge or contracting with private sector companies to support them inresearch and innovation for their products. These financial forces also have institutional andsocial implications. Corporate practices increasingly replace university culture, introducingflexible labor in the form of non-tenured adjunct faculty, and discourses on efficiency,effectiveness and quality. In such a market-driven environment, Altbach (2008) argues thatuniversities are losing their roles as social critics and as a result their relationship with society is―deteriorating‖ (Olsen 2000).Moreover, the emergence in recent decades of the ―knowledge economy‖ has raised thecommercial value of certain forms of knowledge - but not all - and as a result some forms of 3
  4. 4. knowledge, and some disciplines, are becoming marginalized because they are not incomeearners for their institutions. Likewise, teaching at universities has become morecommercialized (Altbach and Welch 2010). University leaders are forced by financial necessitythink of students as customers and revenue streams. Capitalizing of the idea of knowledge as acommercialized product, for-profit universities have become the fastest growing segment of thehigher education sector globally (Altbach, Reisberg et al. 2009). The focus in these institutionsis often on human capital development and professional credentialing to suit labor marketneeds. In this for-profit environment, often lost is the space for teaching critical thinking andlikewise for critique of the existing system.Although the context in which universities operate is challenging, if one looks deeper, it is alsopossible to locate spaces and opportunities for engagement in social change which existalongside of and actually because of these same structural challenges. The idea of a―knowledge society‖ (UNESCO 2005), not just a knowledge economy, has helped to highlightthe essential roles that universities play in human and social development: Knowledge societies are about capabilities to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development. They require an empowering social vision that encompasses inclusion, solidarity and participation (UNESCO 2005, 27).With this idea in mind, we as members of academic community must ask, ―How can universitiescreate knowledge which contributes to human development, and do so in ways that areinclusive and participatory?‖ In locations around the globe, scholars are meeting to debate theroles and responsibilities of universities in the face of global challenges –as we are thisweekend here at the University of Tennessee. Despite the current state of higher education,Hall and Dragne argue that ―universities remain the single largest underutilized source forcommunity development and social change available‖ (Hall and Dragne 2008, 271). Likewise,de Sousa Santos maintains that universities remain a ―counter-hegemonic force‖ (2008),particularly if they can play a role beyond the market (Ordorika 2008). Although marketisationhas driven universities into greater collaboration with the private sector, this concept of the ―3rdstream‖—of working with actors outside of the university—need not be exclusively limited tobusinesses. In the UK, the USA and elsewhere, university leaders have pushed to broaden thisconcept to include partnerships with non-profit and civil society organizations (Laing andMaddison 2007; Watson 2007). 4
  5. 5. Likewise, the internationalization of higher education, which is frequently motivated by seekingout new sources of revenue, can through the same mechanisms open up the possibility of morecollaboration and engagement with academics and universities from the around the world. Thiscan allow us as researchers to become more networked with the wider world.In terms of universities‘ contributions to social justice, such an international perspective is quiteimportant. Over the past fifteen years of his working with the Institute of Development Studies inthe UK, Gaventa has been able to engage with universities and researchers from many parts ofthe globe. In this time he has learned that very often the most innovative work is being done byuniversities and researchers in the global south. If we here in the global north are not engagedwith the south, we will miss quite a lot. Particularly in the US, because of the size and richnessof our own culture, it is easy to lose track of events and developments elsewhere and to developan insular view of our work and of universities.In reflecting on the past several decades, we have to admit already the tremendous influence ofsouthern thinkers on our work for social justice – think, for instance, of Paulo Freire‘ influence onpedagogy and teaching (Freire 1971) or of Fals Borda‘s seminal work on participatory actionresearch (1984) (both of whom we had the pleasure of hosting here at the University ofTennessee in the early 1990s). In both cases, these Southern scholars have forced us tobecome more critical about our roles as academics and about the power of knowledge itself.Who do we create knowledge with? And for whom do we create it? Whose knowledge counts?The implications of these questions are enormous in terms of social justice, for they raiseimportant questions of ‗knowledge justice‘ in the pursuit of broader social justice and moreparticipatory and inclusive political, social and economic democracies. As Boaventura deSantos Sousa writes, ―Social injustice is based on cognitive injustice‖ (2006, 19).Anisur Rahman, a Bangladesh economist and researcher, many years ago called our attentionto the relationship between knowledge inequalities and other forms of injustice: The dominant view of social transformation has been preoccupied with the need to changing existing oppressive structures of relations in material production. But… by now in most polarized countries, the gap between those who have social power over the process of knowledge generation – and those who have not – has reached dimensions no less formidable than the gap in access to means of physical production… For 5
  6. 6. improving the possibilities of liberation, therefore, these two gaps should be attacked, wherever feasible, simultaneously‘ (Rahman 1982).Other southern intellectuals have articulated the need for ‗cognitive justice‘, as a way ofovercoming domination of certain knowledges over others. Cognitive justice recognizes the rightof other forms of knowledge to exist and co-exist. Visvanathan, an Indian scientist activistarticulates five principles of cognitive justice (quoted in Van der Velden 2004):  All forms of knowledge are valid and should co-exist in dialogic relationship to each other.  Cognitive justice implies the strengthening of the ‗voice‘ of the defeated and marginalized.  Traditional knowledge and technologies should not be ‗museumized.‘  Every citizen is a scientist. Each layperson is an expert.  Science should help the common man/woman.  All competing sciences should be brought together into a positive heuristic for dialogue.Such ideas about cognitive justice and the need to challenge knowledge inequalities have nowbecome much more accepted that than they were 20 years ago. Programs of participatoryresearch, university-community partnerships, and community based knowledge movementsexist around the world. Yet many of these are at the local level. The challenges of knowledgeinequality become even greater when we look globally. As we face increasingly complex globalproblems, knowledge from one location or one point of view is no longer sufficient to deal withproblems which manifest themselves in thousands of ways across diverse global contexts.Knowledge must be multi-sited and pluralistic in its underlying assumptions and worldviews.De Sousa Santos has argued, modernity must remember and recognize that an ―ecology ofknowledges‖ exist and are necessary for understanding the world in its full complexity; such anecology is necessary to augment the ―monoculture of scientific knowledge,‖ which has oftenbeen understood as universal, thus invalidating alternative forms of knowing (2006). He doesnot suggest the scientific knowledge itself is invalid, simply incomplete, like all forms ofknowledge. However, the recognition of this incompleteness opens up space for epistemicdialogue between various forms and modes of knowledge which compose the ecology ofknowledge. He writes, The ecology of knowledge aims to create a new sort of relationship between scientific knowledge and others kinds of knowledge. It consists in granting ‗equality of opportunities‘ to the different kinds of knowledge… maximizing their respective contributions to building ‗another possible world,‘ that is to say a more democratic and just society (2006:21). 6
  7. 7. In order to support the emergence of such an epistemic ecology, which can confront challengesof global complexity, universities and researchers must work to build global knowledgenetworks, based on principles of cognitive justice and knowledge democracy. Already a numberof global networks are developing, trying to bring universities into greater collaboration witheach other across cultures and continents, and into greater collaboration with actors outside ofuniversity. The Global University Network for Innovation, or GUNI, supported by UNESCO, hasbuilt a network of scholars asking about the roles and responsibilities of universities in humanand social development. The Global Alliance for Community Engaged Research, GACER, isbringing together practitioners of participatory action research and other forms of change-oriented inquiry to share methods and to deepen their capacities for learning on a global scale.Likewise the Talloires Network is bringing together university presidents and vice chancellors tolobby them to position their institutions as forces for community engagement and social changemore broadly. Such far-reaching university networks have the potential for creating knowledgewhich can respond to problems of global scope and complexity. As Taylor writes, ―through theircontribution to the social construction of knowledge, higher education institutions have thepotential to explore these complex problems and to help shape new goals within a context ofglobalizing economic forces (Taylor 2008, xxix).‖In this paper we want to touch on one such complex, multidimensional problem—what has beendescribed as the global ―democracy deficit‖—and how a collaborative network of academics andactivists evolved to better understand and respond to that problem. The democracy deficit hasseveral interrelated dimensions. In long established democracies, such as the US and the UK,our democratic cultures are declining, as the governments become less accountable andresponsive to citizens‘ needs. Likewise at the international level, many of the most powerfulorganizations which shape the rules and the political economy of globalization, such as theWorld Bank and the World Trade Organization, have no electorates and no accountabilitymechanisms (Nye 2001). The Citizenship DRC was formed to interrogate this idea of ademocracy deficit. Perhaps more importantly, we wanted to question the very concepts ofdemocracy and citizenship. Were the traditional views of democracy and citizenship sufficient todeal with the challenges of participation and representation in a globalised world? Was part ofthis perceived deficit a result of other forms and practices of citizenship, which existed outside ofthe western model, simply not being recognized? (For further on this theme see Gaventa 2006).In order to understand this issue in all its nuances and possible variations, it was necessary tobuild a research process which would be able to look globally and to identify new practices and 7
  8. 8. conceptualizations of citizenship which might exist outside of or challenge prevailing notions.Over the course of working together for ten years in this research collaborative, what becamevery evident is that much of the most exciting thinking and practice about citizenship anddeepening democracy is indeed coming from locations in the global south. While the DRCproduced much new knowledge about citizen action and mobilization in this time, along the waywe also learned a great deal about how research could be conducted differently. We found thatour work was deeply enriched by the participatory inclusion of voices and methods from all ofour partners. Researching democracy meant democratizing our research process (Ansley andGaventa 1997).In this way, the theme of the work became its methodology as well. Producing democraticknowledge required a democratic process, and not only the inclusion of all voices in decision-making, but also an inclusion of their different epistemic perspectives which were grounded inspecific contexts and experiences. By operating within a framework of knowledge democracywithin the DRC itself, we found that not only were our research outputs transformed, but that ourrelationships to each other were likewise deepened and improved, with residual effects whichstretched into our home institutions, effecting the attitudes, pedagogies and positionalities ofmany of the collaborators. In these experiences and practices of the DRC we believe there aremany important lessons and implications for the role of universities in furthering social justiceand deeper forms of democracy, here in the US and across the globe.The Case of the Citizenship DRCThe institutions that gathered together in 2000 for the founding of the Development ResearchCentre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability were highly diverse, and had littleexperience in working together. Yet they had lofty goals: By drawing together the insights and perspectives of a diverse team from various disciplines in universities, research institutes and NGOs in both the north and south, the Centre hopes to have substantial influence and impact upon the concepts, policies and practices that will help to make citizenship rights real for poor people.Initially convened by the Institute of Development Studies, in response to a call for proposalsfrom the British Department for International Development, the groups included 8
  9. 9.  In Bangladesh, initially the think tank Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), but later BRAC University, a university founded by one of the largest NGOs in the world;  In Brazil, the research center Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), which linked academics from a number of nearby universities. (CEBRAP was originally founded by the Brazilian sociologist Cardoso, who later became President of the country);  In India, the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), a large NGO founded on principles of challenging injustice through knowledge for social change;  In Mexico, two universities, the Universidad Nacional Autonoma (UNAM), with partners from the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), both of which had long histories of engaging with marginalized groups struggling for social justice, especially, in the case of UAM, in Chiappas.  In Nigeria, the Ahmadu Bello University, led by led by the Theatre for Development Centre (TFDC/ABU), an interdisciplinary group of researchers and activists using popular theatre as a research and community engagement tool;  In South Africa, an interdisciplinary group from the University of Western Cape (UWC), convened by the Centre for Southern African Studies, within the School of Government.The group was coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies, an interdisciplinary institutebased at the University of Sussex, with the mandate of producing knowledge and research fordealing with global poverty. More recently IDS proclaims in its mission statement its vision of ‗aworld in which poverty does not exist, social justice prevails and sustainable growth promoteshuman wellbeing.‘ It also proposed to create that vision through alliances with others, andthrough ‗co-constructing knowledge ‗by developing and implementing collaborative ways ofworking which engage multiple perspectives in defining problems and questions and ingenerating knowledge.‘From the beginning, then, the Citizenship DRC had a broad mission of producing research andusing that research to bring about change. Its partners were diverse, cutting across manydisciplines. Some came from within Universities, others were practitioners within NGOs. Somehad long histories already of using committed research approaches, such as participatory actionresearch, in the pursuit of social justice. Others came from more conventional researchbackgrounds. 9
  10. 10. But it was also clear from the beginning that to pursue its mission of producing research andcapacities for using knowledge to address issues of democratic justice– inclusive citizenship,rights, accountability and participation – the network would also have to deal with issues of howsuch knowledge was produced, and whose voices and agendas were to be important within thenetwork. The programme was to be up to 10 years long, with substantial sums of moneyinvolved. Funded by the Department of International Development (DFID), this programme isan example of a much larger field of development research, much of it funded from the north,but with the stated goals of promoting development processes for overcoming poverty in theglobal south. Yet, historically, such research had been carried out with little active engagementfrom those from the global south: research questions, methods and issues were set from thenorth; southern researchers were often treated as subcontractors to gather data, but with littlevoice in how it was analysed or used. In such a system of research, often linked to anextractive set of relationships deeply colonial in their nature and roots, there is little scope for‗cognitive justice‘.The Citizenship DRC set out to be different. It sought to develop a way of working in which allpartners could help to construct the research agenda and work with one another - as well aswith the communities which they were researching - to gather, analyse and use knowledge toengage with the issues of rights and democracy which it sought to explore. At the same time, itdid so within the constraints of funding from a powerful single donor, and few pre-existingrelationships of working together in a different way.We have written elsewhere of how the Citizenship DRC sought in the first few years to shift thistop-down, northern driven way of producing knowledge to a more collaborative and participatoryway of working (Brown and Gaventa 2008). In particular, we have explored how such a diverseset of partners could build a collaborative transnational network across such diversity. Based ona review of the work of the Citizenship DRC after its first 5 years, this earlier work focused onthe process of building shared values and purposes, developing relationships and trust, creatinga more decentralised and participatory architecture, which could distribute formal and informalpower across the network. This earlier article concluded: In a world of expanding problems of transnational governance and escalating needs for knowledge and practice innovations, transnational action research and learning networks can play increasingly vital roles. As national and global societies become 10
  11. 11. increasingly knowledge based, such networks offer opportunities for constructing knowledge, practices and policies that respond to a global constellation of stakeholders.... And, as citizenship is increasingly taking on global dimensions, constructing learning networks which learn from and help to strengthen transnational citizen alliances will be critical if these new forms of citizen action are to deal effectively with the challenges of a rapidly changing and globalizing world (Brown and Gaventa 2009, 25).By the end of its second five year period, in 2010 it was clear that the work of the CitizenshipDRC had contributed in a number of ways towards its goals. The accomplishments of thenetwork were considerable in a number of respects (for an overview of this work see  First, the Center produced a huge amount of research on strategies of citizen action and civic engagement, especially in the global south. Representing over 400 research outputs, and over 150 original case studies, the work included an 8 volume book series on the theme of Claiming Citizenship: Rights, Participation and Accountability ( Much of this work was written by southern researchers and activists, who had not previously published in the international arena and covered a range of topics on inclusive citizenship, mobilising for democracy and national policy reform, social movements, global citizenship, science and citizenship, accountability and natural resources, and participatory governance.  Second, the group developed a series of innovative methodologies for action research on rights and citizenship, ranging from participatory surveys, to participatory video, public fora, theatre and more.  Third, the group was able to link its research to public debates and action on relevant issues in each of the countries involved and at the national level. These ranged for instance to using research to address health policies for indigenous people in Brazil, to issues of violence in Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil, to debates on constitutional reform in Nigeria, to mobilising approaches on local NGOs in Bangladesh, to strengthening of social justice committees in India. At the international level, the group contributed to broadening the discourse on the role of citizens in development and democracy, and on the nature of state-society relations.  Fourth, according to the group members, the process also helped to strengthen the capacities of those involved. In some cases these were about research capacities, such as learning new approaches to research or becoming aware of new concepts, but in 11
  12. 12. other cases they were about institutional strengthening, building south-south relationships, or shifting the mindsets of what research for social justice could be.By almost any count, then, the programme met its original goals of producing high qualityresearch, using that for policy and practice influence and strengthening the capacities of theresearchers involved. Much more could be written about each of these, and much has beenalready – in the reports to the donors and others involved.However, to tell the story of what the Citizenship DRC produced would be to tell only part of thestory. Looking back over the history of the group‘s work together, network participantsconstantly said that it was how the group had worked, which also had had a huge impact.Not only had it used knowledge to deepen understanding of citizen action, but it had done so ina way that was transformational to many of the researchers, and to the understanding ofthemselves and their institutions for how to do research in pursuit of social and democraticjustice. During the course of 2010, two retreats were held which allowed us to reflect on whathad been unique about the process of working together – one which had helped the networkmove from a disparate set of individuals and institutions, to a highly collaborative network thatcould help to produce knowledge for change. It is these lessons on the ways of working,rather than the content of the work, which we shall explore further here, as we believe that theygive us insights into how to create inclusive knowledge networks, across universities andactivists, based on principles of cognitive justice, linked in turn to larger issues of social anddemocratic justice. 2 These lessons focus on a) the value of collaborative, co-construction ofknowledge; b) the importance of iterative ways of knowing which link different forms ofknowledge over time, and which ground the universal in the contextual; c) the multiple ways oflinking knowledge to action, at all levels; d) the value of linking research on democracy andcitizenship to the pedagogies of democracy and citizenship and e) finally, the implications forthe role of university researchers in this process. 1. Research as collaboration and co-construction.In many settings, research and knowledge production are highly hierarchical affairs, full ofunequal power relationships as well as conflicts and fractiousness. There are often senior morepowerful researchers who frame the questions, analyze the results, receive the credit, and junior2 This section draws in part from work on a parallel paper with Joanna Wheeler, ‗Using CollaborativeResearch for Social Change: Tensions, challenges and lessons‘, forthcoming IDS Working Paper. 12
  13. 13. researchers who play data gathering roles and more service oriented roles. There are issues ofpowers across disciplines – with battles over which way of knowing is thought to be mostimportant played out competitively against others in numerous often subtle ways. Powerrelationships embedded in the research process may translate into highly hierarchical researchinstitutes, often reflecting rather than challenging, dominant power relationships in the broadersociety. And ultimately, there is the fundamental power relationship between those whoresearch, and those whose lives are the objects of that research – a relationship longchallenged by advocates of participatory research and those who argue for democratic andinclusive ways knowledge production.For researchers who came from research settings laden with such hierarchical and oftencombative power relationships, we found that the Citizenship DRC offered a different kind ofspace – one that attempted to be collaborative across many differences, be they betweenresearchers and practitioners, north and south, disciplinary and methodological divides. Ratherthan a competitive environment in which one approach or researcher produced the ‗best‘knowledge on behalf of others, we sought to co-construct knowledge, both across the networkitself, and between the researchers and the community stakeholders involved.Within the network, collaboration took many forms. From the beginning, the research projectwas somewhat open ended. While we had a set of themes we wanted to pursue – issues of howcitizens claimed rights in different contexts – we did not start with specific hypothesis orresearch questions pre-defined by the lead researchers. Rather, in a process that somecolleagues initially found unsettling, these were generated together, drawing upon the deepknowledge and perspectives from researcher and practitioners across many different contextsand disciplines. Researchers then pursued themes in working groups, which themselvesbecame mini-epistemic communities, where ideas, draft papers, methods were shared anddiscussed either face to face or through e-dialogues and other electronic forms of interaction.Where possible, meetings were held in different field settings, not always in the UK, from wherethe project was coordinated, giving researchers an understanding of each other‘s institutionsand society‘s. Drafts of papers were discussed in writeshops and workshops, and rigorous yetsupportive peer review became a valued feature of the network. Collaboration even extended tothe governance of the program, with a steering committee made up of representatives of all thekey partners, and key decisions, including over budgeting of resources, made together. 13
  14. 14. For many researchers, especially for those coming out of deep conflicts and social divisions(e.g. apartheid in South Africa, caste divisions in India), or other hierarchies of class,knowledge, and gender which pervade all of our societies, the DRC encounters offered adifferent kind of space, On the basis of this experience, researchers could then also imaginehow things could be different in their own settings. One researcher said she began tounderstand collaboration itself ‗as a political project‘, as it challenged lines of power in theresearch and knowledge production process. Others pointed out that in an internationalknowledge system, where southern researchers often are mere spokes feeding into a northernknowledge hub, collaboration and co-production together – across south-south lines – was away of challenging global hegemonic relationships.Others began to apply such approaches in their own settings, and we began to see ripplesoccurring as they sought to adapt or replicate these ways of working elsewhere. Theseattempts at replication were not easy, as sometimes, they felt, it was easier to establish ‗global;moments of collaboration, then to do so embedded in their own settings and institutions.As a South African researcher said, If you look at the DRC‘s collaboration, its political act was to develop a new global agenda. Locally, we tried to implement DRC type processes where there‘s very little collaboration, where the political environment is very fractious. So, there‘s the opportunity to shift political agendas, to get people together. The DRC‘s ways of working – it‘s not simply facilitation. This became clearer to me in our discussions…Another researcher attempted to model the ways of working she had experienced in the DRC inworking with communities she was researching. She reflects I think I value the fact that I‘m now able to engage in collaborative work. We‘ve struggled with it, but we‘ve managed to achieve some things too. The very act of being collaborative is an important end. I also value that I am now able to be more of a facilitator, building communication between different groups. I don‘t know if I‘ve become more political, but certainly, I‘ve become more sensitive. This whole culture of DRC – you have to be accountable. That‘s changed what I do with my research, what I want to do with my research.Others pointed out that the collaborative and co-productive way of working was deeply relatedto the kinds of knowledge being produced. Knowledge produced for its sake, without concernsfor how that knowledge is used or of cognitive justice in the research process, can perhaps begained through less collaborative and extractive relationships. However, critical knowledge, 14
  15. 15. which can be used to challenge and change underlying power relationships, often must alsoinvolve changing the relationships of the researchers to their subjects as well. In this way ofworking, the research process, and research workshops become ‗spaces of encounter‘. As oneresearcher working with lower caste dalit groups in India commented, Our reflexive workshops embodied spaces of empowerment – where the researchers and the practitioners all come together, and through participation and dialogue, and each responding [and participating] we arrived at solutions [and agreements] on social justices issues…[these were] lively spaces [full of] exchanges of ideas. 2. From the contextual to the conceptual: Research as a process of iterationBuilding collaborative, democratic relationships in the research process takes time. TheCitizenship DRC was fortunate to have some ten years in which researchers could worktogether in the development and pursuit of a common agenda. This time not only allowed theopportunity for forging relationships of trust and collaboration, but it also allowed for a process of‗iteration‘ to occur in the generation of knowledge. Often times in the global knowledgeenterprise, theories, concepts or discourses on topics like democracy and citizenship may arisedeeply de-linked from local realities, yet in turn often have the power to shape norms andexpectations within them. For us, iteration was important in that it became a way in whichresearch concepts and theories could both arise from local contexts and in turn be groundedand deepened within them. In a global system characterized by highly unequal forms ofknowledge power, research which is global in nature but linked to the local, and which growsfrom the local but speaks to the global, is itself an important part of building cognitive justice.Much global research on citizenship and citizen action constructs citizens (and their agenciesand identities) as byproducts or residuals of other institutions. Thus a market oriented approachto development argues for getting the market right, and constructs citizens as consumers whothen will have market choice. A statist approach argues for getting the state institutions right,and then citizens can exercise voice as users of its services. Even an NGO civil societyapproach often pays more attention to the organizational forms of civil society, and relegates thecitizenry to their ‗beneficiaries.‘ Our research approach sought to reverse the telescope. Ratherthan see citizens as residual of other institutions we sought to take a ‗seeing like a citizen‘approach in which took a grassroots, locally grounded perspective and looked upwards andoutwards at the institutions which affected their lives. Such an approach often gave a very 15
  16. 16. different perspective than that found in the more top down ways of knowing (for more on thissee Gaventa, 2010).Yet at the same time, we wanted to produce something more synthetic than over 150 separatecase studies. By looking across these cases, in each working group and in our synthesisprocess, we wanted also to be able to draw broader lessons and themes, and speak to a set ofmore international normative, conceptual and policy debates about rights, citizenship,democracy and accountability. The challenge was to remain both rooted in local empiricalunderstanding, while also being able to address larger cross-cutting national and global issues.In dealing with this dilemma, a key approach was found in the ways of working in the severalworking groups which pursued critical themes across our research. Each of these groupsended up going through a process of moving from research question, to broader concepts, andback again.  Generation of questions: In most cases the questions and themes for working group were generated through some sort of participatory process involving researchers close to the contexts and countries involved - a very different process from a research approach which specifies research questions or hypotheses in advance.  Sharpening the questions and the frame: we used various methods including various forms of literature review, field testing, e-dialogues, follow up workshops and concept notes to sharpen the approach;  Choosing cases; working with them: In many instances, the cases for study were chosen because researchers had other ongoing links to them, and they were seen as places for action and change, not just places for study. As a result, we often had very diverse cases and diverse methods for looking at them. The synthesis process had to deal with that diversity.  Sharing, critiquing and re-framing: Most groups had mid-point workshops in which researchers shared early drafts of their material. This often also led to a re-framing and re-conceptualising of the project itself, based on feedback from other researchers working in other contexts.  Re-writing case studies; deepening analysis: Following the global workshops, researchers often went to the cases, with new questions and with deeper probing, based in part on the need to be able to compare this case with other trends that were 16
  17. 17. emerging. In this process there were of course tensions and trade-offs between telling a local story vs conforming to an overall frame emerging from the group.  Synthesising findings: In most cases, each of the working groups worked together to generate synthesis across the findings in a participatory way. Again, this process differs a great deal from one in which researchers from different countries feed their findings into a central hub for synthesis in which they have no role.  Final writing and publishing: moving to the final published product often was a challenge for editors and contributors alike. The goal was to include as many of the products emerging from the local research as possible. In many cases, however, national and local researchers had not written for international audiences, also posing some challenges of balancing inclusive voice with traditional understanding of ‗quality‘ in global research projects.  Generating new questions: Over the life of the DRC, the work of one working group often contributed both to the questions and ways of working of subsequent working groups. In this sense knowledge was both generative and accumulative.  Sharing ‘downwards’ as well as ‘upwards’. For most of the researchers, as we shall see in the next section, generating research for an international audience was only one purpose. Equally, if not more important, was the way that the knowledge was used by and with those whose lives were being researched.The above stages of the research process are not necessarily unique – they follow a cycle thatwill often be found in research handbooks. However, what made this unique for many was theopportunity of bringing collaboration- across south-south, research-practice, methods anddisciplines, into this process of local – international –local generation and use of knowledge.In this research process, the role of the researcher often took on a new dimension, as themediator between the local and the global communities. In related work in the project on thechallenge of inclusive citizenship in a globalised world, we wrote and theorised both about thecritical roles that inclusive knowledge framing and democratic, accountable mediation played inbuilding global social justice (See Gaventa and Tandon 2010). In reflections on the researchprocess, we began to see our own roles as knowledge mediators in a local-global knowledgesystem, in which we were helping to shape whose knowledge could be seen and heard, andwith what perspective, as also an important act of cognitive justice. 17
  18. 18. The open-ended iterative process also implied another different way of working, as it implied theneed to think of the research process as a journey, whose outcomes and destination could notclearly be predicted. Taking a ‗seeing like a citizen approach‘, and then working upwards andoutwards in collaboration with others, means that the researcher must lose some control on theprocess, to be willing to respond to and be led by others. The research process as one ofengaging with the world requires a humility, researchers said, to listen, and in that humilitycomes the research encounter which allows one to learn and act with others. As one Mexicanresearcher said in our reflection workshop on this link between humility, collaboration anditeration between context and concept: I think that humility tends to be a condition for opening this space for collaboration. It seems to me that the iteration between the conceptual and contextual is important – this hierarchy in European academia of concepts being more important than contexts. The hegemony of a conceptual, detached knowledge is brought into question. Though the practice of iteration can be seen as a dialogue between forms of knowledge, wherein overarching conceptual frameworks are open to transformation, the iterative process is a way of humbling the conceptual frameworks and opening them up for different ways of working. We also know that one of the important components of the working methods is the breaking down of hierarchies. I think you‘ve achieved an important inroad for the humbling of the academic community and for the humbling of academic practices.3. Communicating knowledge for social action and policy reformA third principle which emerged in the Citizenship DRC way of working, but is not unique to it,involves the question of how research may be linked to change – through the stimulation ofaction, advocacy, policy or attitudes and beliefs. In more mainstream ways of thinking about thetransmission of research to policy or public action, ‗research utilization‘ is a linear process –anoften one which does not question the relationship of the researcher to those whose lives arebeing researched, or whose policies are being influenced. The normal flow is that a researcherproduces high quality research, which then is communicated in professional journals and toprofessional audiences, but which then may also be shared with various publics to bring aboutchange. In more recent versions of this, the researcher may play the role of public intellectual,who brings knowledge and expertise to various publics (reference Burawoy 2004).In the Citizenship DRC, while there were certainly elements of this approach in our work, overtime, this linear approach began to be challenged. Rather, more in line with thinking in moreparticipatory research, we began to see that research process itself as one which could not only 18
  19. 19. produce knowledge but which could also, and simultaneously, contribute to processes ofchange.There are many examples: - In Nigeria, researchers from Amehdu Bello University used participatory theatre in dozens of villages across the country to understand local perceptions of citizenship, rights and government accountability. The ‗performances‘ also became ways in which space was created for villagers to articulate key issues, some of which would be risky to do in other ways. Researchers also followed the process with development of community action plans, based on issues that had emerged from the research. At the same time, the local research fed into national dialogues and debates, including linking to processes of Constitutional reform in which the very meaning of the concept of citizenship was at stake (Abah et al 2009). - In Brazil, researchers used participatory video with youth in the favelas to understand the ways in which violence affected perceptions of citizenship and citizen action. The youth were then able to produce films based on their own perceptions, and to create fora through which these were shared and debated with public authorities. The local research also fed into broader national and international debates on violence, security and democracy, and was part of a larger working group doing similar work in other contexts (Wheeler 2009). - In India, researchers worked with local Social Justice Committees to understand further the role that these committees could play. Originally established as fora for the lowest caste or dalit members of the community to become engaged in affairs of local governance, these bodies had largely been dormant or non-existent. Through a series of dialogues in conjunction with local NGOs, the researchers helped to stimulate awareness of the potential of these committees, contributing in turn to the emergence of a strong social justice movement (Mohanty 2010).Not all of the projects within the broader program used such participatory methods. But manydid. And over the course of the research program, researchers became much more aware andintentional in understanding the ways in which research could contribute to change from thevery beginning of the research process. New skills were learned, such as how to do a politicalanalysis of constituency publics before setting out on the research process, how and when to 19
  20. 20. involve them along the way to ensure stronger ownership and use of the results, and what kindsof research products were best used to communicate with which kinds of audiences. It becameclear that various knowledge strategies could be used to produce a spectrum of kinds ofknowledge, ranging from the instrumental, to the interactive to the critical. In all of theseprocesses, the researcher could play multiple roles – ranging from that of facilitator, criticalfriend, translator, interlocutor, or intellectual (Benequista and Wheeler forthcoming). Such anapproach often extends the role of the researcher as a public intellectual, to that of participatoryintellectual, who works with multiple publics to gather knowledge that informs policy andpractice, rather than only sharing his or her knowledge to ‗enlighten‘ others.4. Constructing democratic citizenship in the classroomAs researchers from around the world were working on research projects on citizenship andcitizen action, they began to reflect on how they could build the DRC work into their teaching. Atthe outset these were questions of curriculum and content, how to use DRC case studies in themost effective ways. In some universities, curricula on democracy and citizenship had not beenupdated for many years, and still reflected northern literature, drawing from very differentconceptual and normative underpinnings. There was an increasing concern that the alternativeunderstandings of these concepts, more deeply rooted in local contexts, was absent from theclassroom.Over time these discussions on content evolved into wider reflections on process. Increasingly aquestion began to be raised about the disconnection between the research theme, the researchprocess and the researchers‘ own teaching. There was a sense of disconnection of the DRC‘sways of working in the community, where researchers were engaging in more participatory andcollaborative forms of research, and their ways of working in the classroom, where pedagogiesof teaching democracy often in themselves were not very participatory. As a result of theseconcerns, a working group on teaching and learning (T&L) democracy and citizenship wasformed, which piloted new approaches and curricula of teaching for three broad kinds ofteaching: university courses at old and new universities in Bangladesh, Canada, Mexico, SouthAfrica, and the UK; donor-sponsored events where public officials came together as ‗championsof participation‘ to share learning and build networks in Angola, Brazil and southern Africa; andan NGO-led distance learning course in India.In keeping with a fundamental premise of the DRC, the members of the T&L working groupoperated from a perspective that knowledge creation was a collective process. While they were 20
  21. 21. enthusiastic about using papers and case studies drawn from the body of research, they alsofelt they needed to be more cognizant and intentional about engaging students‘ own knowledgeand experience of democratic agency. Spaces were created for thinking about democracy withinthe classroom and in the wider contexts in which they students lived. Many of the working groupmembers experimented with participatory classroom pedagogies, allowing students to constructreading lists and facilitate class discussions. Even the spatial arrangements of the classroomitself were questioned as to their tendency to entrench hierarchical power relations and interruptthe dialogical flow of knowledge and experience. As well students were asked to create theirown local case studies to compare with those being produced by the DRC. Informed by theconcept of cognitive justice, these educators attempted to contextualize democratic theorywithin the cultural heritage and identities of their students. A South African researcher recalledencouraging his students to contrast the idea of the social contract—rooted in the writings ofHobbes, Locke and Rousseau—with their own understandings of social relationships rooted inindigenous ubuntu sociology, with the result that ―their enthusiasm for my course becameboundless.‖ The effect of these experiments with more democratic pedagogical methods wastransformative not only for students, but also for the researchers themselves. As one workinggroup participant reflected, The T&L collaboration has changed my sense of myself as a teacher… I am now more sensitive to the fact that students bring all kinds of knowledge that I do not have, and if you bring these into the classroom something enabling really happens.In a longer paper about this process, Kahane and von Lieres (2011) outline the learning fromthis collaborative approach to developing teaching and learning on democracy and citizenship.The paper points clearly to the importance and potential of the classroom as a place forteaching and learning that can foster the deepening of democracy and citizenship. Yet, what istaught, and what is relevant will vary a great deal according to the context of the particularsetting. And, the possibilities of teaching and learning about democracy in more democratic andcollaborative ways can themselves be constrained by the hierarchies of the universities in whichsuch teaching takes place. Moreover, the paper reflects on the value that global collaborationcan play in challenging approaches to pedagogy in differing contexts, while also providingsupport for innovation and change. As one of the South African colleagues in the projectsummarized: It is not when we are together in T&L that matters, but when we are alone in the 21
  22. 22. classroom situation, facing eager students that seemingly want to learn: how does one tell students, so used to and immersed in the traditional banking concept of knowledge, that the knowledge that they bring into the classroom situation has as much validity as the texts that are filling the libraries of the world (not that the latter have all of sudden lost their import!) But, through the presence of a Mexican exemplar, the innovative training methodology of an Angolan colleague and the impetuous interruptions and clarifications of an Indian scholar, I have come to realise that in the web of life, we are all learners and teachers - and this singular, most important truth constitutes ‗democracy-in-action‘ in the classroom. 5. Researchers for social justice: reflecting on positionalityAs the above pages have shared, when universities and researchers engage in these new ways– through collaboration and co-construction, through iterative ways of knowing with others,through using research as a process for social action, and through teaching differently in theclassroom – our own roles, beliefs and positionalities as researchers also must change. Formany researchers in the DRC, the process was deeply transformational. Researchers began tosee research as itself a political act, and themselves as political actors, who are deeplyembedded and part of struggles for social justice, even if these focus mainly in the epistemicand cognitive domains. The measurement of ‗success‘ and ‗impact‘ from the program will haveto be not only in what it produced, but also in how its ways of working transformed researchersthemselves, creating new understandings, commitments, networks and momentum for change.But as researchers come to see themselves in this way, they also see begun to understand themultiple identities and roles which they play – be they as facilitators, translators, mediators,educators, communicators. With multiple roles come multiple accountabilities, to thecommunities with they are researching and engaging, to the institutions of which they are a part,to their peers in a global research network. Navigating such roles and accountabilities canproduce new tensions – whose voices are agendas are most important? When are we‗researchers‘ and when are we social actors? What happens when the multiple roles andaccountabilities come into conflict?From these tensions also emerge new ethical dilemmas: Who benefits from the research?What happens to standard rules of confidentiality and ‗protecting‘ those being researched, whenthe research process is itself a form of giving voice, of challenging power relationships, and ofbreaking down the dichotomies of the researcher and the researched in the first place? Whenone thinks of the university and the researcher as apart from the struggles for social justice,whose role is to study and teach about them, but not with or for them, one gets one set ofanswers. But when one understands that the struggle for social justice is also a struggle for 22
  23. 23. cognitive justice, new roles and ethics of the researcher will also emerge. As Mehta wroteabout the process: There is a universal research ethic that stresses informed consent, protecting the interests of subjects, maintaining confidentiality, and preventing the disclosure of identities where this could harm research participants. These principles are often in university codes and some of them are hopelessly inadequate for developing country settings. Moreover, in participatory research other ethics also emerge, such as those of reciprocity, using the research for change, and being clear about the involvement of those being researched in the process. Thus formal ethical codes are often inappropriate in the context of participatory or action research (Mehta 2008:247).Throughout the process, the position and role of the researcher may constantly change. As oneof the researchers reflected in a final workshop, ―I think that the role of the researcher is toengage in critical encounters. What does this mean? The researcher must listen, must negotiatecritical relationships, but also hold onto their political and social positioning…and in theseencounters, they act in lots of different ways – with policymakers, with practitioners, with others.‖And another said, ―Because we have discussed that research is a political act, you have apolitical position that defines the various roles you will play within it. This includes thecollaboration that occurs during the course of your research. So in that sense, listening is notjust listening. Listening is an encounter, but the moments of encounter are in different spaces indifferent places…and you choose, in many cases, who you encounter.‘ConclusionThe previous pages have focused then on one global collaborative research program thatsought to bring a new way of producing knowledge to research on citizenship, democracy andcitizen action. We have focused on five themes emerging from this research collaboration: a)the importance of co-production in knowledge processes; b) the importance of iteration from thecontextual to the conceptual; c) the importance of embedding research in processes of socialand policy action; d) the role of pedagogy in teaching and learning on practices of democraticcitizenship and e) finally, understanding the impact of each of these on the identities,accountabilities and ethics of the researcher.We feel that these themes have important implications for universities as they seek to contributeto social justice in the wider world. As universities become more marketized and market-driven,it is increasingly common to think of knowledge purely as a product or commodity. The DRCswork makes a strong counterclaim to this by demonstrating that knowledge is also a process,and that the process of how knowledge is constructed is fundamental to the counter-hegemonic 23
  24. 24. value of that knowledge. Knowledge production which is driven by motivations of efficiency ormarket value is unlikely to be transformative or contribute to social justice. Space and time haveto left for iteration, relationships and imagination. Knowledge itself has been and should remaina fundamental tool in constructing a more just world. However universities must go beyond theirold ways of constructing knowledge as they strive to address the complex, global problems ofour age. These challenges require knowledge which is adaptable and epistemologicallypluralistic, knowledge which draws on the experiences and diversity of the world in its fullness.Over a decade ago, based on experiences at the University of Tennessee, Gaventa, then asociology professor at UT, and Fran Ansley, a law professor reached similar conclusions inrelationship debates about researching democracy. We argued then that ―researching fordemocracy also implies democratizing research, a shift that poses a fundamental challenge tomany university-based researchers. At the heart of the problem of linking research anddemocracy is not only the question, ‗whose voices are strengthened by university research?‘ butalso, ‗Who participates in research in the first place?‘‖ (Ansley and Gaventa 1997, 46).In many ways, the experiences of earlier work and thinking at the University of Tennesseebased on efforts of the Community Partnership Center, and the participatory research at placeslike the Highlander Center, were carried into the more international experiences of theCitizenship DRC. Over a decade later, a similar argument remains that that is relevant to thecontemporary debates on universities and social justice. The role of universities is not simply toproduce critical and knowledge about social justice, though this is important. Rather, it is also tounderstand that issues of knowledge and knowledge production are themselves related toissues of cognitive justice, which is about whose knowledge counts and how this isproduced. Without cognitive justice –which respects and includes multiple forms of knowledgeand ways of knowing - then there is little likelihood that universities can contribute effectively tobroader social justice goals. As researchers and teachers, it is not only what we do, but ourways of working which are critical to the larger question of how universities themselves areactors in producing social justice, not just studying it. In a global world, where issues of powerand justice are increasingly complex, multi-tiered and multi-sited, then engaging in struggles forcognitive justice also means engaging with others in collaborative global knowledge networks.In such collaborations, universities of the north have much to offer, but also much to learn, bylistening to and being part of broader knowledge and social justice movements. 24
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