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Cartagena 2017: Mecca of Participatory Action Research?

Cartagena 2017: Mecca of Participatory Action Research?

Category: Blog

Both of us made a pilgrimage to Cartagena for the Action Research of the America’s conference and the First Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy, June 12-17, 2017. For Budd it was a third visit to Cartagena having been there for Orlando Fals Borda’s first time 1977. The 1977 event was billed as the first international conference on ‘investigacion y accion’. The ‘investigacion y accion’ that Fals Borda was speaking off was quite different from the action research traditions that were more common in organizational change discourses of the day. Cartagena had been chosen because it was on the Atlantic coast of Colombia near where Orlando had carried out his revolutionary study with the Afro-Colombian people. This study was published in a book where one side of the page were the oral traditions of the Afro Colombians and the other side a more academic portrayal of history of the region. In 1977, Budd shared ideas that had been developed in Tanzania in the early 1970s where the concept of ‘participatory research’ first emerged. The 1977 event was small with about 125 participants. The central debate arose between activist scholars on the left who were informed by Marxist philosophy with its emphasis on the role of vanguard intellectuals in political change and the ideas that Orlando was putting forward of organizing around a process of knowledge construction from the bottom up. He called his approach ‘science of the common person’. The reality was that in Latin America of the late 1970s nearly every country had undergone a military coup d’état and the vanguard parties were on the run. Budd recalls that the proponents of the bottom-up investigacion y accion process felt that they had gained the upper hand in the debates. The proof could be seen in the remainder of the 1970s and throughout the 80s when ‘investigacion y accion participativa’ (which became participatory action research or PAR) and popular education became the foundational approaches to organizing throughout Latin America. Budd did not recall a single woman speaking from the front of the rooms.

Both Rajesh and Budd took part in the 1997 World Assembly of Participatory Action Research again organized by Orlando Fals Borda. 1997 was perhaps the

largest gathering ever of action researchers, participatory or community-based researchers, campesinos, indigenous knowledge keepers, afrodescendants, students and civil society. 1997 felt like a popular movement with demonstrations, performance art, theatre, women’s defiance and tributes to those who were being killed by government forces for siding with the militants in the mountains. Flavoured by heavyweight progressive intellectuals such as Anibal Quijano, James Petras, Eduardo Galeano, Emmanuel Wallerstein and Agnes Heller, the 1997 conference was a chaotic, hopeful, celebratory and defiant stew that said that instrumentalism and positivism had been overtaken by the liberatory intensions of hope.

The third Cartagena conference of June 12-17, 2017 was the brainchild of the relatively new Action Research Network of the Americas, a network founded in August 2012, by Lonnie Rowell, Joseph Shosh, Margaret Riel, Eduardo Flores, and Cathy Bruce of the USA. The conference in Cartagena was the 5th ARNA conference. Cartagena was chosen as the venue as an acknowledgement of the contributions of Orlando Fals Borda who passed away in 2008 and as a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first Cartagena conference in 1977. The ARNA2017 conference included a day devoted to what was called the First Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy. Lonnie Rowell, Joseph Shosh and Doris Santos from the National University of Colombia in Bogota were the key organisers of the events. In addition, Doris organised a pre-conference workshop in Bogota that Rajesh contributed to as well as several oportunities to pay tribute to Orlando Fals Borda who had lived and worked in Bogota. Doris Santos provides the specific context for the 2017 Cartagena meeting,

“These are certainly exciting and challenging times for academic citizens in Colombia. Many of us have made the decision to support the very fragile peace process that has just started. This decision implies, among other challenges, to help to reconstruct the relationships and collaborations in our society, starting with our own within the universities (between faculty members, between faculties), while making sense of those with the communities involved in the process. This is a new start for us academics as part of a new upcoming society. Hierarchical relationships inside and outside universities derived from traditional ways of understanding who ‘owns’ and/or ‘validates’ knowledge in society are challenged by new citizenships under construction. Collective reflections upon new political scenarios in the world and the exchange of local experiences of collaborations are really meaningful for us”.  

There were around 600 participants including academics from the US and Colombia. Many more women present than in either 1977 or 1997, but fewer non-academics, civil society folks or social movement activists. Far too many of the keynote speakers were older males (including Budd and Rajesh!). Many of the best known popular educators and participatory researchers from the rich history of this tradition in Latin America were present such as Oscar Jara of Peru and Costa Rica, Felix Cadena of Mexico, Marco Raul Mejia of Colombia, Rosa Zuniga of Mexico, and Carlos Rodrigues Brandao of Brazil. There were fewer people from outside the Americas (only two Canadians) which makes sense given that the organizers were the Action Research Network of the Americas. With the exception of a talk by Alf Casiani, a leader of the AfroColombian movement on knowledge and exclusion and a workshop organised by Zoraida Mendiwelso-Bendek, Marjorie Mayo and Rajesh on the potential of participatory research as a contribution to the transition to peace in Colombia after 52 years of war, there were fewer bursts of new energy than might have been hoped for.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, from Portugal was the best known academic present. His work on epistemologies of the global south, on the effects of epistemicide and on the potential of a university of social movements was magnetic. He drew crowds of students and admirers everywhere he appeared. He was the keynote speaker on the day of the Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy. His opening remarks on the Global Assembly were sobering. Given the missing persons from the social movements, from the political and social justice frontlines, from the Indigenous communities, this event could not be called the first Global Assembly on Knowledge Democracy. It could be called a planning event, a first step towards something more inclusive. He said that in matters of epistemicide we were living in the contradiction of seeing something new, but recreating the continued colonialisation of knowledge. He said that Friere and Fals Borda has been gifted readers of their times and that their ideas on liberatory education and participatory action research had been right to their times. But we live in a darker, more complex time, a time where knowledge and power are further fragmented by location, identity, culture, sexuality, gender, ability, spirituality and more. We need, he said, a theory and a practice that recognises and supports an ecology of knowledges, that is located outside the academy as well as inside and can confront the neoliberal structure directly. He called for a reclamation and revitalisation of popular education.

In both 1977 and 1997, music and dance were woven into the fabric of the conferences. 2017 offered us much music including a haunting song, a ‘message to colombia’ written by Orlando. But the music and dance was somehow structured into the introductory moments and the closing moments, a much more Euroamerican practice than an African or Latin American practice.

But both Rajesh and Budd came away with a reminder of the deep resevoir of intellectual and practical experience that can be found in Latin America. We came away with renewed evidence that the passion for this work in Latin America persists, that popular education is alive & well, that younger women academics are eager; that university leadership is thinking about engaging with post-conflict peace process. It was a fine return to a place with much meaning for us and a fitting spot for our contemporary avatars as UNESCO co-chairs to spend some time.

Our final note is about Cartagena, the town. It is no longer a sleepy Caribbean destination but is a booming tourist hot spot with a dynamic nightlife, a totally renovated historic city centre surrounded by high-rise residences overlooking the sea from every angle.

Rajesh Tandon and Budd Hall


Epistemic Justice & Knowledge Democracy

Category: Blog

Continuing the Cartagena Journey

Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda had convened the first dialogue on Action Research in Cartagena Colombia in April 1977. Nearly 130 delegates attended the four days of dialogue. Budd Hall, UNESCO Co-chair & Normando Suares were there.

Prof Budd Hall Prof Normando Suares

Orlando chose this part of Colombia because of the excluded nature of African-Caribbean realities in academic and policy analysis of Bogota-dominated intellectual and economic elites of Colombia at that time.

As Orlando came in contact with similar efforts and networks of participatory research in different regions of the world, he began to more vigorously articulate PAR—participatory action research—as methodology for social and political transformation.

He convened Convergencia Participativa in June 1997—to bring together different streams of this kind of work to Cartagena. Several PRIA colleagues joined this conversation then.

(c ) Mr Binoy Acharya & Dr Dave Brown, at the Cartagena Conference on PAR, 1977

Budd and I co-convened dialogue on ‘civil society as space for knowledge construction” in Cartagena in 1997.

(d) Dr Rajesh Tandon & Dr Budd Hall, at the Cartagena conference 1997, speaking on ‘civil society as sites of knowledge’

Twenty years later, Action Research Network of Americas held its fifth annual gathering in Cartagena last week. And, it invited other networks and practitioners to join in the celebrations of Orlando’s work and inspiration.

(e) ARNA Conference 2017 poster

Over this period, several intellectuals have produced excellent analysis of epistemicide in human history. Shiv Vishwanath in India & Boaventura Sousa Santos in Portugal have been focusing on cognitive justice as the basis for taking forward the struggles for social justice. Prof Boa Santos made inspiring presentations in Cartagena 2017 last week.

(f) Dr Rajesh Tandon, Prof Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Dr Doris Santos, Dr Budd Hall (left to right)

On the day of conversations about knowledge democracy– June 16, I reminded the gathering of the struggles for dignity and voice of domestic workers, especially maids, around the world.

(g) Dr Rajesh Tandon

It is important to remember knowledge struggles of domestic maids, on the International Day of Domestic Workers. Interestingly, the well-known Brasilian adult educator, Paolo Freire began his literacy work first with domestic maids in Recife, Brasil in 1950s.

Since music, art, dance, theatre and poetry is so much a part of people’s lives and struggles, construction of knowledge and modes of inquiry have to transcend the cognitive, and acknowledge the emotive and action modes of inquiry.

In that sense, epistemic justice will represent more holistically the diversity of knowledge cultures, modes and systems, without necessarily implying that one is superior to other.
Cartagena 2017 expands the vision of knowledge democracy!


Take Risk, Engage with Peace

Category: Blog

Opportunities for Universities in Colombia

“I do not know if I can make this commitment? My family and my university may not support such engagement?”

“This is a historic opportunity to contribute to creation of a new Colombian society; universities must come forward to engage.”

Such ambivalences and dilemmas were expressed by dozens of academics in dialogues held at Bogota and Cartagena over the past week.

After more than five decades of armed struggle between FARC rebels and the military of the state of Colombia, a historic peace accord was signed last year. President Santos also received Nobel Peace prize for this achievement. However, Colombian society is highly polarized in respect of its support or opposition to this accord. And, implementation of all the elements of the accord is already under pressure.

Nearly 7000 armed FARC rebels, as per the accord, will lay down their arms under UN supervised process by end of June 2017. They have been staying in 26 ‘transitory normalization zones’ all over the country. As of last week, 30% of arms had been surrendered, and the process is on track.

However, the government is yet to deliver its part of the commitment with respect to housing, water, livelihood (including land reforms) and financial support to each FARC rebel.

And, the time is running out, because military, armed militias and a majority of the economic elites in Colombia are not in favour of granting these to former rebels. Resistance and denial is happening at all levels.

It is in this delicate context that Colombian academics have been having thoughtful conversations about ways in which they can make a contribution. A dialogue with nearly 100 academics from National University and a few others was held in Bogota last week.

Another conversation was held in Cartagena yesterday, initiated by Dean of Engineering of University of los Andes. Speaking to the gathering yesterday, the Dean asked academics from ten universities to work together in those regions by engaging with the peace process in order to make the voices of the former rebels and other citizens heard by the government and the military. In the long run, changes in the curriculum and research agenda must be made to sustain the benefits to future generations.                                

Joining this conversation, the Vice Minister for Education Natalia Ruiz informed that the government is committed to support universities in such an engagement, so that new forms of sustainable self-managed community solutions may be implemented as part of the peace process.

The conversations in Bogota focused on the current perceptions about universities as aloof elite institutions as likely barriers to engagement. Additionally, several academics were unsure of the support from university leadership for such a risky effort on their part.

Intervening in these conversations, I suggested that engagement is worth the risk in this sensitive context of peace-building in Colombia. In my view, two initiatives can be taken urgently.

First, taking advantage of the somewhat neutral and respected position of the universities in Colombia, they can facilitate convening of conversations across conflicting perspectives of different stake-holder groups—former FARC rebels, military, local government, citizens, business and others.
However, authentic conversations in present context of mutual mistrust and hostility would require sensitive and firm facilitation by all university actors—rectors, deans, faculty, students, staff. Speaking truth to powers may be easier said than done.

Second, a quick and necessarily early step is to engage with former FARC rebels and local citizens around those zones to listen to their voices in a respectful manner. Drawing on community-based participatory research methodology, groups of faculty and students from local universities may initiate such ‘listening’ research so that hitherto unheard voices can be amplified for attention of government leaders and urban elites.

Engagement with society by universities under best of circumstances is risky. Colombian peace context at present poses many additional risks of failure, acknowledging personal fears and institutional discomforts. Disruptive change in the posture of universities, and behaviours of academics, at this juncture may be essential if engagement is to be real.

May I, therefore, remind my Colombian colleagues in academia and civil society what Orlando Fals Borda said 20 years ago:

“If I still wanted to be a good academician, I had to work with different concept of science, more ethical and pertinent to the daily vicissitudes of the common people, which would place me on the side of peace and progress, not death and destruction.”

Colombian society expects its intellectual elites to take the risk of engaging with the peace process, here and now!

Dr Rajesh Tandon
June 13, 2017


Towards Social & Epistemic Justice

Category: Blog

Community engagement in universities has typically been narrowly defined to imply service learning by students. Engagement in teaching and research has been rarely institutionalized in most Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Recognising engagement as a value to address social and epistemic injustice, therefore, is an unknown. Durban University of Technology and Rhodes University organized a South African conference precisely on this theme in Durban May 31-June 2.

In the backdrop of recent student movement (#Rhodesmustfall) in South Africa, which challenged European hegemony in higher education, convening of such a conference raised many expectations. Nearly hundred delegates from a dozen universities, both students and faculty, took part in these deliberations.

Recalling the 40 year old history of participatory research, I argued that dominant knowledge systems today represent dominant global classes. Participatory research emerged as a counter-veiling stream of subaltern knowledge that emphatically argued for valuing indigenous and practitioner knowledge. Programmes of social justice in democratic societies had also ignored valuing such knowledge systems as building blocks for transformations.

Building on this perspective, Dr Sizwe Mazibela, Vice- chancellor of Rhodes University, recalled that 1997 Whyte Paper of South African government had enjoined on the responsibility for promotion of common good. However, the transformation of universities had not kept pace towards this goal. He called for embracing ‘ecologies of knowledge’ and quoted GUNI World Report 5 to argue for knowledge to serve public good. In his view, community engagement has to move away from ‘deficit model’, and build on resources that already exist.

Experiences and perspectives shared in the conference also highlighted the positive encouragement provided by special funding window of National Research Foundation of South Africa. Its director, Dr Zolani, exhorted the delegates to make more transformational use of such funding. It was acknowledged that community partners of universities involved in such projects were not able to participate in this conference because of restrictive policies of university administrations.

HEIs alone can not bring about required transformations in their positioning and functioning. Demands for epistemic justice must emanate not only from students, but also form larger civil society. As pressures for public accountability increase, universities in South Africa, and around the world, may have to shed their ‘ivory tower’ image and position of privilege in society.


Mulembe Mutinze Cuusansi – The Great Turning: Confluence 2017 “Exceeds Expectations”

Category: Blog

The Mpambo African Multiversity in partnership with the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research, Inclusion Press and the Victoria International Development Association (VIDEA) concluded a week’s events called Confluence 2017 with the installation of the Saaba Kabona (the highest spiritual leader) Jumba Aligaweza of Tondism on May 24, 2017 in ceremonies held in the sacred site of the Walusi Hills in central Uganda.

Confluence 2017 brought together 50 Mother tongue scholars, Indigenous leaders from Turtle Island, and allies to the sacred source of the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda for a week of reflection and celebration.  It was said that Confluence 2017 was the first international conference to be held in Uganda with Luganda and Lusoga as the working languages with English translation for those who did not speak either of the Mother Tongues.  Confluence 2017 has been a major project for our UNESCO Chair as it seek to deepen our understanding of knowledge democracy and support knowledge generation and sharing for those who have been excluded from our global mainstream.  We have partnered with the Mpambo, Afrikan Multiversity over the past five years as plans were being made to hold this event.

When European contact was made in Uganda, political conquest and colonisation went hand in hand with concerted and on-going efforts to discredit and kill off the knowledge systems that had proven effective for many thousands of years.  This epistemicide was particularly savage when it came to African spiritual traditions. Christianity and Islam claimed moral and intellectual superiority over traditional practices of prayer and grounding with the land.  African spirituality was labelled as satanic.  People who practice it are still, according to testimony at Confluence 2017 disrespected and despised.  Confluence 2017 provided an opportunity for an equal and respectful exchange of ideas about knowledge and justice, about the re-emergence of the spiritual philosophy of ‘Tondism’. Tondism, arising from that land where all human life began and with it all human spiritual and intellectual life, derives its name from the word Katonda, the African God of Peace.

Through drumming, dance, music, prayer, presentations, visits from and to African women and men spiritual leaders and traditional medicine practitioners, those participating experienced a truly transformative experience. The organizer, Wangoola Wangoola Ndawula noted that “Confluence 2017 has exceeded my expectations.  This event which has unified and restored the confidence of many of Uganda’s spiritual leaders and Mother tongue scholars in one of the most important achievements of this century”

A 12 minute video is being prepared, many other in-depth written reports and hundreds of photos being curated.  All will be available on our UNESCO Chair web site before long.


Is there a Canadian Approach to Knowledge Democracy?

Category: Blog

C2UExpo, Vancouver, May 1-5, 2017

Elder Margaret George of the Squamish First Nation and President Andrew Petter of Simon Fraser University Opening C2UExpo on May 2, 2017

The C2UExpo (Community Campus University Exposition) is ending today, May 5th, 2017. It is the 7th of these Canadian organised spaces where knowledge workers in communities, colleges and universities come together to share their excitement, challenges hopes and dreams. This unique space of knowledge democracy time after time allows the partners of co-creation to come together as equals in the epistemological power game with the common vision of using their diverse knowledges and skills towards making a difference in their communities. Community Based Research Canada (CBRC) is the national network that supports the movement between meetings, which facilitates the process of site selection and assures some elements of a common vision. Having now had the experience of six previous CUExpos (the original naming of this gathering was the work of Dr. Jim Randall, former Dean of Social Science at the University of Saskatchewan where the first CUExpo was held in 2003), I wonder if a Canadian approach to knowledge democracy is beginning to emerge? Perhaps I am only naming the vision I want?

An Emerging Vision
Let me remind readers that our UNESCO Chair works within a framework of knowledge democracy. Knowledge democracy is about recognising the remarkable diversity of knowledge systems (beyond the Western Canon). In addition it refers to representing knowledge in creative and diverse ways (including the arts), in understanding the critical role of knowledge in action for social justice and in making all knowledge products available free of charge to all. I mention this as ‘engagement’ goes beyond the relationship with knowledge creation to include teaching and learning and other types of partnerships and collaborative mutual activities. The Canadian flavour of knowledge democracy that I suggest includes an Indigenous grounding, a spirit of inclusivity of stakeholders, a generous engagement with the arts and the primacy of diversity. How did these themes play out in C2UExpo 2017?

The opening of the conference involved a combination of a Squamish blanketing ceremony, a practice used in Coast Salish Indigenous communities to ‘stand-up’ and recognise individuals who have made or are making important contributions to the community. Squamish Speaker Elroy Baker led the ceremony. Three young Indigenous women and men were blanketed before the room of 500-600 participants: Khelsilem, founder of the Squamish language adult emersion language program, Ryan McMahon, a comedian and story teller, Ginger Gosnell-Myers, head of Aboriginal Affairs at the City of Vancouver. They were asked, at the opening of this conference about knowledge co-creation to share their thoughts about the challenges of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s for our work. Even 10 years ago, either a prominent academic, a public intellectual or a political-civic figure, would have opened an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral conference about knowledge involving academics and community partners. Simon Fraser University chose to ground the entire conference in a message of recognition of the role of knowledge in past injustices and the centrality of Indigenous ways of knowing to our moving forward.

The Canadian approach to knowledge democracy is inclusive of a range of players that make a difference to well-being in society. Once a starting point of an ethical, fair and just lens is accepted there is were many stories told at C2UExpo2017 where marginalized community members engaged with academics, local government and even business folks were able to work together. While not making light of the challenges of working with persons with such difference degrees of privilege and power, the skills to bring people together for social change through community based research are continuing to be developed. For example one of the site visits that I enjoyed was to HCMA Architecture and Design, a community-based business where we stood in their office and were led in song by Vanessa Richards and the Woodward Community Singers.

The arts are well understood by the Canadian knowledge democracy movement as both a way of creating knowledge and as a way of representing knowledge. Theatre, dance, music, spoken word and poetry, video images, drawing, murals and much more have been prominent is every one of the seven CUExpos since 2003. There is an understanding that if the goal of knowledge work is to make a positive difference in community, that the arts have a special capacity to link action, thought and feelings. C2UExpo was alive with the arts and never in a more exuberant way than the night of the Culture Mash-Up in the downtown SFU Arts centre located at the edge of the downtown east side of Vancouver, an area of deep poverty and exclusion. Community performers, activists, stilt walkers, blues musicians, street poets and artists of all kinds came together in a multi-storied building full of totally wild and exciting exchanges of energy and hope.

Canada is celebrating 150 years of settler government, 150 years as a recognised nation in that relatively new concept of the nation that emerged from Europe some hundreds of years ago. But recent archaeological findings confirm the oral histories of the Helsiuk First Nations among others on the BC coast that they have been here for at least 14,000 years. The 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have been times when the movement of peoples around the world has accelerated. Places like Canada have become demographically settler dominated. But as time has gone on, Canada has become a welcoming country with people from 180-200 different nations. Diversity is perhaps the first fact of Canadian demographics. Recognition of what being a nation of such diversity means to schools, to government, to business and commerce is something that Canadians deal with in every corner of life. To be sure, racism, exclusion, and discrimination are part of a Canadian history and are very much issues of 2017. But judging from the range of stories shared on at C2UExpo 2017, recognition of diversity of ethnicity, sexuality, ability, gender and more is nearly always found within the contextual frameworks of the work being done.

Community Capacity: The Challenge Remaining
As I was leaving the plenary on the last day, a friend who works in a community based research organisation in the Yukon stopped me to tell me about having been at a table of university-based ‘community based research’ workers. They were speaking of being able to ‘help’ community, interpret community and facilitate community university research partnerships. My friend, whose most recent proposal for CBR work in Northern Canada was turned down, does not even have the money to turn on the lights or pay for the heating in an arctic zone of Canada. And she is one of Canada’s leading researchers working with communities, Indigenous FNs in the North. After some 15 years now of universities getting with the CBR and engaged research band wagon, the communities that are supposed to be the partners have not seen their capacity to have full time knowledge workers working with them so as to be really equal partners, are still holding their begging bowls! This perhaps more than any challenge will determine where there really is a knowledge democracy movement or just another academic discipline that will eventually break our hearts.

Dr. Budd Hall


Rethinking Research Partnerships

Category: Blog

Evidence and the Politics of Participation in Academic-INGO Research Partnerships
A Conversation on Knowledge Democracy

On Monday of March 27th in London, UK, I had the opportunity to attend a day of the two-day workshop jointly organized by a wide range of academics involved in international development and researchers from international NGOs, mostly based in the UK.  For many years the two solitudes of academic international development researchers and international NGOs passed each other in airports and bars on their respective ways to their projects in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere in the global south.  In the past 5-10 years these separations have been breached as academic researchers have established a series of research partnerships with the UK-based INGOs.  The Rethinking Research Partnerships initiative has been a two year series of seminars, reflections and conversations around the politics of evidence and participation within the academic-INGO research partnership process.

The ESRC-funded seminar series took a case-study approach, involving the presentation and analysis of seven cases of research partnerships. While these case studies could broadly be characterized as ‘successful partnerships’, the series identified and analysed a variety of challenges and tensions arising from collaborations. Despite the range of evidence preferences and research approaches adopted by the partnerships, and the diversity in scale and distribution (with many of the case studies involving additional partners from the Global South), the common thread running through the cases was the importance of understanding the context in which the partnerships were formed. The dynamics, agendas and priorities of the UK’s INGO and academic context (including policy and funding mechanisms for research and development) impacted on motivations for partnerships and shaped the types of evidence valued in partnerships with implications for the prioritization of certain approaches, skills, roles, knowledge and languages. A key aim of the event that I took part in was to share lessons from the seminar series from a UK-perspective while incorporating actors from the Global South, in addition to people working in other UK sectors, to engage with these insights, and affirm, challenge and extend them.

An impressive collaboration

The breadth of the collaborating organisations struck me.  In fact most of the major UK academic units in the field of international development were there as well as many of the best-known UK-based INGOs working overseas.  I was struck as well by the depth of the relationships that have sprung up over the years of collaboration.  People knew each other well judging from the up-beat and collegial mood in the room.  Most of those who were in the room had participated in one or more of the previous seminars, were part of earlier case studies or had been part of earlier efforts at harvesting new learning.  Personally, it was a delight to see the mixture of young people as well as some friends of mine from 30 years or more.  The way that the workshop was organised was wonderful! It was very participatory with a focus on allowing for the maximum sharing by the largest number of participants.  The NGO mode of analysis in this case dominated the academic normality! And good to see that there has been funding over recent years for both academics and NGOs to pursue their independent and common interests. How much the UK Conservative sweep and the Brexit focus will take away from what has been was a worry on the minds of everyone. Clearly INGOS have increasingly been recognized as knowledge creators and not simply sources of data, although challenges remain.

Towards a decolonising practice

Taken as we have been in the UNESCO CBR team with the meaning of knowledge democracy, the decolonisation of knowledge, epistemide and cognitive justice, it might be understood that those were lenses through which I processed the experience. There were several thoughts that I want to share. 

First is the importance of connecting the international partnerships between development-oriented academics and INGO partners with the rich array of domestic research being co-produced by universities and local NGOs/CBOs.  It was significant that one of the seven ‘international development’ case studies explored through the RRP series had a UK-focus and involved CBOs, locals government and Trade Unions as well as the central partnership between a university and INGO.  The workshop I attended also integrated a perspective from the UK’s community development and public (health and education) sectors as well as learning from the large-scale AHRC-funded Connected Communities programme.  A key partner of the RRP initiative has been the UK’s National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement with a view of linking learning between the international development sector and domestic community development on issues of universal concern such as affordable housing, violence against women, countering Islamaphobia and so forth. 

Another question that I asked in one the small groups that I was in was to what extent did they involve academics from the universities in Ghana, Nigeria, and so forth; universities in the Global South.  I was told that those kinds of partnerships were very rare because the UK based INGOS were more likely to link up with UK based academics and that international academics had more prestige and could be seen as more objective than local academics.  This tendency has been enhanced by the shift in international development policy and research funding by the Conservative government with its explicit agenda around exporting British technical expertise as part of ODA. However, most of the case studies explored through the RRP seminar series involved additional partnerships with academics from Africa, Asia and Latin America and the ESRC increased the project’s budget to support academics from South Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil, the Philippines and Qatar to attend the workshop. Day 2 of the event also included a presentation from the South-South Exchange Programme for the History of Economic Development, which is a network of academics from the Global South engaged in re-theorising ‘development studies’ from a Southern perspective. The challenge then becomes how to influence funding and policy structures to ensure that these alternative knowledges and approaches are integrated into action-oriented research partnerships.

My next question then was what about the role of national NGOS?  Every country that I know of in the global South now has a wide range of quite skilled national NGOS.  Those NGOS that are funded by the INGOS were of course part of the process, but what about the independent ones?  One story that I was told was that when a project was being created in one Middle East country, the national NGO(s) were critically involved as they had the on-the-ground experience, but when the proposal was finally finished only the INGO was mentioned as it was felt that they had more prestige.  This challenge – and its related issues of extending networks, addressing complex power relations and building capacity was explored in the RRP workshop in a session led by INTRAC (the International NGO Training and Research Centre) who are engaged with these issues in their own work.  It also relates to an emerging argument being made by activists such as Kumi Naido about the importance of involving Southern-based transnational social movements in knowledge production for the development of better policy and practice.  

Budd L Hall and Jude Fransman, Open University  March 30 2017


Participatory Research, Cognitive Justice and Knowledge Democracy in French-Speaking Countries of the Global South: The Open Science in Haiti and Africa (SOHA) Project

Category: Blog

We have recently received a book curated by Florence Piron, an anthropologist and ethicist at the Université Laval in Quebec, Samuel Regulus, a Haitian anthropologist who is now professor at the Université d’État d’Haïti and Marie Sophie Dibounje Madiba, chief documentalist of the CERDOTOLA (International Center for Research and Documentation on African Tradition and Languages) in Yaoundé (Cameroon). The book’s title is Justice Cognitive, libre accès et savoirs locaux. Pour une science ouverte juste, au service du développement local durable (Cognitive justice, open access and local knowledge. Towards a fair open science in service to sustainable local development) and it is published by a new Canadian open access book publisher called Éditions science et bien commun. Florence Piron told me in a recent note : “ I am sure that you have understood that the book in itself is a gesture of cognitive justice : plurilingual, authors from the North and the South, men and women, senior and junior researchers, all that in an open access book!” The book with its various formats can be found at The tantalizing feature of course for those working in English and Spanish is that the bulk of the book is in French. A welcome feature is that summaries of all the chapters are available in English, Creole and other African languages. (This is something we should all be doing?) In terms of taking the pulse of a truly global and plurilingual movement of knowledge democracy, this is very exciting. The book is one of the outcomes of SOHA project (Open Science in Haiti and Africa), a project that was funded in part by a network of the International Development Research Centre between 2015 and 2017. The project drew from more than 6000 people, ‘engaged in diverse ways to the construction of a concrete utopia’ from Quebec, Haiti and 18 countries in Francophone Africa. Its website is at

From their introduction, another science is possible,
“Our utopia is based on sharing an ideal and an outrage. Our ideal is to contribute in an egalitarian manner without discrimination to scientific knowledge for a better understanding of the world we live in, a world more welcoming and self-fulfilling where we can live well together and where the abject misery that remains the daily situation for too many families, even in the global North, would have disappeared.

Our outrage is caused by the severe economic and social disparities between the countries of the North and the South. These injustices are intolerable. Our outrage is particularly felt in the way that ‘science’ tends to treat knowledge originating in the global South as a form of ‘subaltern’ knowledge (knowledge of the illiterate, peasant farmers, the landless, women….those without power or even knowledge produced in African universities).”

The project outcomes include two surveys that reached around 1000 participants in 18 countries, 4 international meetings on cognitive justice and open science, a network of emerging science shops in Africa and Haiti, an internet platform for African science available in open access, 30 videos, a MOOC course in construction, an open access publishing facility, two local open science associations and an international community of students, researchers committed to the concept of cognitive justice.

The book is divided into five sections: (1) cognitive Justice, (2) Open access, (3) local knowledge, (4) universities, society and sustainable local development and (5)open science, the SOHA project-analysis and testimonies. The richness of this book can be seen in the diversity of the writers taking up the themes of the various sections. The cognitive justice section has a piece by Shiv Visvanathan, the scholar who is credited with drawing scholarly attention to the concept, but the following chapters are written almost entirely by people from Haiti and Africa. The section on local knowledge draws our attention to oral traditions, to the myth that Creole cannot be a scientific language, to the place of Indigenous knowledge in the global scene. The section on universities, society and sustainable local development introduces us to the concept of science shops, to links between universities and civil society, and to civic universities in Haiti. The final section contains among other contributions, eloquent testimonials to the hopes for open science, open access, participatory research, and cognitive justice in Africa, Haiti, Quebec and the world.

This book of 465 pages is a treasure chest. For those who read in French, you have much joy ahead. For those without that ability, please make use of the various Internet translation sites to draw out some of the individual jewels in this work. For those looking for the names of scholars from the global South, here are some fine new voices!

Rajesh Tandon, Budd Hall and our small but mighty UNESCO Chair team salute the SOHA team for their wonderful accomplishments. We look forward to finding time and space to share much more in the future.

Budd L Hall

[French Version]


Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science: An Exciting Advance for Knowledge Democracy

Category: Blog

Professors Gloria Snively and Wanotst’a7 Lorna Williams have just published a the first of what will be two books on the Indigenous Science of a region of West Coast Canada and the US, the traditional territories of the Lekwungen (Songhees), SXIMEŁEŁ (Esquimalt), and WSÁNEĆ (Saanich). This book, a towering achievement, is moreover available as an open access publication under a creative commons copyright. It is a powerful example of what knowledge democracy looks like in practice.  Gloria Snively is a celebrated marine biologist and educator. Wanotst’a7 Lorna Williams, a Lil’Wat scholar and former Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Learning and Knowledge.  Both have been based at the University of Victoria, in Western Canada.

Why is this so important?  For those of us working in community-based research, knowledge democracy, on issues of decolonizing higher education, on the science of the earth , We are familiar with the work of de Sousa Santos and the concept of epistemicide, the killing off of other knowledge systems by white European knowledge.  But it is less clear how projects that recover and revitalize Indigenous knowledge for example can be carried out. Knowing Home grew out of an Indigenous Science (IS) research process that has been more than 14 years in the making.  Key to the process was the involvement of younger Indigenous master’s students who, under the guidance of Professors Snively and Williams, undertook studies of IS that recovered Elder’s knowledge and community knowledge.

Knowing Home honours and restores Indigenous knowledge as a contemporary partner of Western science.  It is not about replacing one hegemonic knowledge system with another, it is about finding a way for multiple knowledge systems to work together in the interests of all life on the planet.  The title of the book makes that point, the Braiding of Indigenous Science with Western Science. Another chapter heading makes another powerful statement, Indigenous Science: Proven, Practical, Timeless.  This book is designed to be used by science teachers and other educators in British Columbia schools.  The public school system has mandated that Indigenous Science will now be part of the curriculum for secondary school students. But the importance of this project goes far beyond even this critical advance.

We are living in an era when the very concept of knowing home has become difficult.  We are all expected to be contributors to some kind of global assembly line of products overseen by distant owners who grow increasingly glutinous by their wealth.  We have lost the sense of  home to such a degree that the ability of our planet support even our own lives as human beings is at risk.  So it is in that sense as well that work of this nature must proliferate in many more parts of the world.  In the meantime, let us celebrate this breakthrough, congratulate the editors, the former students, the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters and allies for a luminescent volume that is also by grace of their vision and the internet available throughout the world for free!

Snively, G and Williams, Wanosts’a7 (Eds.) (2016) Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science, Victoria, BC: University of Victoria is used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License, except with otherwise noted


Knowledge and Racial Justice: The Movement of African Descendants in Latin America

Category: Blog

It has been my privilege to attend the Second Symposium on the Afrodescendants Movement and Latin American Studies organized by the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center of Harvard University and the University of Cartagena in Colombia held December 9 and 10 in Cartagena, Colombia. The organizers were Silvia Valero, U de Cartagena, Alejandro de la Fuente, Harvard and Alejandro Campos Garcia, Thompson Rivers University, Canada. The conference had expressed an interest in the work of our UNESCO Chair on community-university research partnerships and on the Confluence 2017 event being organized by Paulo Wangoola and the Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity that we are supporting in Jinja, Uganda in May of 2017.
The Afrodescendants movement is a mature and impressive movement of Afrolatinos and their organisations and includes diasporic activists, academics, international organisations and political leaders from all over Latin America and the Caribbean.  There are over 200 million Afrodescendents in the Americas.  They have been working together for many years having gotten their initial push in Santiago, Chile in December 2000, at the Latin American preparatory event for the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism that took place in Durban.  The term Afrodescendents (Afrodescendientes) was coined in Santiago to refer to the millions of Latin Americans of African heritage. It is encouraging that even with the resistance of the dominant powers to the message of the Anti-Racist UN agenda, the opportunity for Afrodescendants to begin working together is impressive.

The Cartagena conference brought together 50 impressive movement leaders from most of the Latin American countries including some allies like myself from Canada and others from the US and England. Amongst the participants were some of the leading world scholars on the Latin American African disaspora, leaders of national and international human rights and racial justice organisations and networks, Afrofeminist scholar activists, young Afrodigital social economy activists, representatives of the Organisation of African States and the World Bank.

From a knowledge democracy perspective, the event was very exciting. There was widespread recognition of the importance of moving beyond the hegemonic discourse of White Western European knowledge to include knowledges of excluded black thought. There were many moments where the power of the arts to represent transformative knowledge was present. One example of the later (from the women participants) was the invitation to several of the leading men in the conference to take scarves and cover up objectionable sexualized paintings that were on the walls of the conference area. Another was the use of hip hop by Magia Lopez of Cuba, a founder of the duo OBSESION, a team that uses hip hop for community and social change purposes. Monica Carillo, head of a Peruvian Centre for studies and support of AfroPeruvians began with a powerful poem on being a Woman Black Panther.

There were presentations from many community groups, some of which were using the terms participatory research and the co-construction of knowledge to express their way of working. One example is the work of Edwin Alvarez of Honduras who is the Director of the School for Afrodescendent leaders in Human Rights. This school is based in communities, attracts students from most parts of Latin America for four month community-based courses. They learn a variety of skills in the community. The communities play a role in the selection of the students themselves. They support learning of participatory research and the co-construction of knowledge.

The movement is one of the most promising gatherings of its kinds that I know of.  It is a space of intellectual exchange, of strategic debate, of partnership and alliance building. It has strong Afrofeminist and youth engagement and has involvement from older women and men who have been leading the struggle for justice and equality for Afrodescents in their countries and the continent for many years.   It is a space of co-construction of vision and strategy.

For further information about the movement, please contact Alejandro Campos Garcia