Negotiating knowledge plurality in everyday practices

Year: 2018

Author: Chineka, Raviro

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper examines the negotiation of knowledge plurality within a community in Zimbabwe who are faced with risk to their food security due to climate change. It is based on a study I undertook for my PhD that sought to investigate what and how learning occurred in this community in the process of climate change adaptation. Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as formulated by Engestrom as an analytical resource, the study found learning in the community was afforded by a number of different and new sources of knowledge, including new practices for growing food brought by immigrants from other communities who have settled in this community, eco-friendly practices that children brought home from the Eco-Schools club activities and technical information brought to the community through visiting experts and media. The scope of this paper is limited to the ways in which community members’ learning about climate change was mediated by expert technical knowledge. Studies in Science, Technology and Society studies (STS) and sustainability transitions illustrate how people’s everyday knowledge and practices come into tension with scientific and technical knowledge when external experts enter their community to provide advice (Abson et al 2016; Mukute and Lotz-Sisitka 2012; Roncolli 2012). This paper will present an analysis of the diverse ways in which technical expertise entered the community, how members of the community interacted with it, what contestations over knowledges emerged, and the kind of learning that occurred. The study found that, despite some strongly held beliefs in the community about how food should be grown, the community was not a closed system. On the contrary, there was a constant flow of technical advice entering the community. The paper will argue that the possibilities of successful negotiation of contested knowledge systems that would result in what Engestrom calls ‘expansive learning’ were linked more to the types of interactions that were afforded between the ‘experts’ and the ‘lay’ community members, rather than the compatibility of the different knowledge systems per se. The study employed an ethnographic approach to enable me to observe over time how these interactions unfolded. Data collection for this study involved personal interviews, focus group discussions and observations of everyday practices in eight families over a five months period in the community.  Interviews were conducted in the local language of the community.
Climate change adaptation     Learning          Knowledge plurality  
Sustainability transformations