Three stories of emancipation
All the comments you have made relate to the theory I’m going to share with you now. I’m going to try and keep this presentation brief and please stop me if you have any questions. I’ll try not to get too involved in all the jargon as well. Please remind me because I’m deeply immersed in my Phd as you are probably deeply immersed in all your studies and the jargon tends to fall out of my mouth sometimes without me realising I’m doing it.
So forget about the title at the top. What is more important than the title is the picture which I thought is a nice representation of the way we often work. We work in these silos. We have City Varsity at the bottom and up arising out of it are the different disciplines, the different silos. I particularly like this photograph because it was taken in Johannesburg and beneath that taupaulin of the City Varsity is the slum of the city. So there is the University almost covering the slum of the city with their silos of knowledge rising to where I don’t know. It is a picture that captured my study for me and this is just, if you are at all interested, the main question of my study: “Does Trans-disciplinary research enable emancipatory research and change orientated learning?”
Participant X: Is it mainly in South aFrica?
The study is based in South Africa. The first part of the study is an international review so it will be looking at the big theories of trans-disciplinarity: systems thinking, complexity theory, Bhaskar’s critical realism and integral theory. The purpose of this review is to try to understand what lenses they bring to emancipatory research, if any. Then the study will be focusing on South Africa and focusing even more on the water sector. Water is a very powerful hub around which to ask questions of oppression and equity.
For the academics amongst us there are three concerns that have come out of, or lie at the heart of trans-disciplinarity and you will probably recognise some of these concerns from your studies:
That research is applicable to the problems of everyday people and everyday situations in a very complex world. A lot of comments you’ve made show how complex this world is, how complex our society is and how it has got to be so complex. I can also hear that you see the that the role of your research is to help us understand how we have got to where we are. The main thing here is that there is this shift in focus in research. Before the aim of research, particularly science-based research, was to generate knowledge. This aim, it was claimed, was value-neutral.Now there is a shift in the trans-disciplinary circles to say ‘no, producing knowledge is not enough.It is more important that knowledge is applicable to the everyday lives of people.’ Now the purpose of research has been questioned and debated for many years but mostly within social science and the humanities. The emergence of trans-disciplinarity is characterised by a main stream questioning of the purpose of all science based research.
Another thing that comes out of the literature on trans-disciplinarity is we are no longer in… and I think this is where the scientists among you are wanting to move into the social sciences because you are trying to address this…. is that science tends to generate knowledge by looking at a closed system and water is not part of a closed system so suddenly we are having to look at different types of methodologies to address an open system.
And then the final point to emerge from the trans-disciplinary literature is the ability to synthesis all these different knowledges. It is enough to drive us insane. Not only are we dealing with the disciplinary cross overs, and this is the point that you made, but we are also dealing with knowledge that exists in different contexts and cultures that is validated in different ways to the way disciplinary knowledge is validated. ‘Truth claims’ are often made based on different criteria. This makes the trans-disciplinary space a contested space. So, we are not just trying to synthesis the different disciplinary knowledge that we have at Universities, trans-disciplinary researchers are also acknowledging that knowledge exists in everyday life and how do we bring that to the table and how do we also work with that knowledge to bring about transformative action. We want to transform things, we believe that trans-disciplinary research can transform things but to do that we need to acknowledge that there are many other knowledge systems. There are many other ways of knowing and naming the world and that is really where, for me, the core debate around emancipation lies, “who names the world, why do they name it that way, and who benefits? These three questions become key. It means that knowledge production or knowledge creation is not a neutral activity and that embedded in all our knowledge systems are discourses that are political because knowledge and power are deeply interlinked. This applies to all knowledge, not just academic knowledge. You made the point about the power of the media to control the way we think about things. So when you are doing your research, even if you are doing a science study, you can consider “I am naming the world, why am I naming it this way and who benefits if I name it this way.” Even if that is all you do when thinking in terms of emancipation for your study it is worth while.
Okay so these three points introduce the possibility of trans-disciplinarity possibly being an emancipatory science. Whether it is or not, I’m skeptical and I’m always skeptical of new approaches. So you can see the things you were mentioning before I started talking are captured here.
A personal consideration of emancipation
I’m not going to go into these slides in too much detail. I was going to share with you how my interest in emancipation came about. I’ll do it very briefly as I think it is more important to show you how, what you have already spoken about, fits into the theories that I’m talking about.
This slide is linked to a google site which I can’t open here as I don’t have internet connection but google ‘1988 in South Africa. The reason I chose 1988 is because I was a young teenager then and it was in that year that a political awareness arose in me. There was a sense that I was living in a lie of a country this thought was triggered because a young boy was shot by our neighbour. He was the same age as me. He was 14 and he had broken into a car and the guy who lived next door had shot him in the back as he ran away and killed him. I could not accept this. It absolutely shocked me as a young child and it started me reading all sorts of things. Luckily I had the opportunity and access to different view points because my parents were British so I got to go oversees and I was exposed to what people were saying about South Africa. Luckily I had another discourse to help me understand a very shocking situation that I was struggling to make sense of.
The first time I voted was obviously 1994. I was very, very excited about contributing to this new South Africa. After my Masters I worked in a rural area in the Kat River Valley. Some of you may have read some of the stuff that came out of that by Nicole Motteux and Kate Rowntree. The research was focusing on this idea of participation and engaging people in capacity building activities. The project was driven by the idea that people must participate in the decisions around water resources and water needs to be accessed in a democratic way. Capacity building was seen as way of bringing people power, emancipating them, leading them towards a freedom that, once capacitated, they would be able to take for themselves. I also come from a psychology background. I studied psychology at an undergrad and honours level so I really believed that if people could heal internally and if they could generate their own internal knowledge they would be able to bring about their own emancipation. I realised, through this project that I was wrong.
This was a huge shock for me. It was through my experience of working in the Kat that I realised this. We put a lot of work into building the capacity of people which included working through the pain of living through apartheid. Then we realised that, as you and you said, we exist within a society that has these strong structures that an individual has very little power to change alone. It made me reflect on this wonderful quote by Malcolm X “Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.”
And that is something to bear in mind: knowledge is not neutral, science is not neutral, education is not neutral. They are are discourses and they give across a particular position. So if we are going to have learning to emancipate, what kind of learning? If we are going to have research to emancipate, what kind of research? These are the kinds of things that people are questioning. We can’t take for granted that education will automatically lead to emancipation. We can’t take for granted that the knowledge generated by research will lead to emancipation?
Three stories of emancipation
Now I’m going to tell you three stories of three people that made emancipation their life work. The first person is my favourite, Paulo Freire. He is the one that developed the diagram I spoke to you about. He was born in 1920’s and worked in Brazil. He re-claimed education as emancipation and he did this in two ways. First of all he said that the aim of education needs to be emancipation so he asked the question “why we are educating?” He writes very beautifully. He is like a poet so if any of you enjoy good writing you will love the way he writes. He wrote” are we educating for people to just become a work force or are we educating people to become mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, fighters, people that can stand up for things, people who can have passion?” So he was acknowledging that the way our learning and our education is often framed is to keep capitalism going and to develop people to have the skills to be a worker and if you look at the way South African education has changed over time you will see this is very much the case. In the past we had different education systems depending on your race. Each one was developed to keep people in their particular place. Now we had outcomes based education which became driven by a neo-liberal agenda.
So Paulo Freire questioned the motivation for education very deeply and he developed methods and methodologies to be able to fight against this and one of these was that he really believed education and learning was about dialogue. I believe the roots of social learning could be traced back to Paulo Freire. Many social learning theorists do not acknowledge this. He was one of the first to talk about education as dialogue and to link education to a political goal. He also said that educating is not just ensuring that people have access to knowledge in their own language but that learning is linked to the way people live their lives. The learning and the knowledge we generate is linked to our lives and unless we acknowledge the lives that people are living and are willing to hear their stories about the lives that they live and include our stories in that there is no way that we can actually share knowledge. He is not a difficult theorist to read. I would really recommend you explore him because he is not only relevant to education, he is relevant because he gives us a way to generate knowledge and critique what we know democratically.
He also spoke about the idea of false conscious. Critical consciousness and false consciousness. Critical consciousness for him was the ability to name the world so who is naming our world and I’ll put this slide up: “Are we in danger of becoming the rich man’s news?”
Who is naming the world? That was your comment about the newspapers. Believe it or not this is an actual advert. I could not believe it. I thought it was a joke when I found it but it is an advert by the Los Angeles Herald saying ‘Check us out we are a better newspaper because rich people are reading us.” It is just hilarious but it says something, are we just the news that people sit and read and how are our lives being portrayed in that news? So Freire was also big on the discourse. This is not just language, say isiXhosa or English, discourse is the way we describe and make sense of the world from within a particular culture or discipline and is our way of making sense of the world part of the influential discourses or not. And that is quite a big question.
One other thing about Freire is he split false consciousness into two kinds. We can all suffer from false consciousness. The one way he would say is when we think we don’t have agency. Not having agency means we feel we can’t act. Freire would say he would come across people who had so much suffering in their life that they could not see their suffering and the cause of their suffering. They could not see their suffering was caused by society. They would think it was caused by themselves or something greater than themselves such as fate. They would not be able to name it’s source. This is what Freire called magical consciousness. People will say it is just the way the world is. It is fate. It is the way it is. There is nothing we can do about it. For example, money makes the world go round. This is just the way the world works. It is the way it is. The caste system in India is a another good example of this. It is our karma to be poor and it happens in Christianity as well. We can say this suffering is God’s will. I don’t believe a God would let people suffer from poverty. I don’t believe in that kind of God. So that is the magical consciousness. Life is so hard and I try and explain it in some other way. There is a higher force that is making my life like this or it is just the way the world is.
The other false consciousness he called ‘naive consciousness’ and he said that was when people thought they were so superior to reality that they imposed their meaning of reality onto it. So they can make it up as they want it to be and obviously that relates a lot to the more privileged amongst us. If you look at TV, I mean I love the example of soap opera’s. Soap opera’s often present that superior view of the world, this is my reality. The wealthy rat bunch. We are all hanging out sleeping with each other or whatever we are doing. This is the real world and if you are not experiencing it, well you just haven’t got there yet. So people will view the world through their lens of privilege and feel they can impose this experience of the world onto others as real. People that do this are acting as if they are superior to reality and so can bend what is real and what is true to their experience. Weird. We can’t be above what is real. We are part of reality. We are part of the world. Freire would say that people who suffer from naive consciousness need to re-become part of the world and see reality as it is. 80% of the people in the world live in abject poverty. That is the truth. If we are not living our lives according to that truth we are living in a naive consciousness.
Roy Bhaskar. This is shifting slightly. Roy Bhaskar took another direction. This is interesting for you guys who are more in the academic masters, PhD level. I don’t recommend you start getting to know Bhaskar’s theory by reading Bhaskar to start with. I recommend you read Leigh Price. She reinterprets his work beautifully in a way that we can better understand. She is a scientist herself, an ecologist, so she also has a wonderful way of writing that is accessible to scientists and social scientists.
Bhaskar came at this emancipation question from this idea that the way in which we understand how knowledge is produced isn’t emancipatory. It is oppressive. This is a very interesting take and highly philosophical but it does have some very good things to look at because it makes us question our own way of doing research and it makes us question whether we are doing research for emancipation. Now I am still struggling to understand what he says so I will just give you a general idea of what I understand. His theory is a critique, not only of science but of social science as well. He thinks we have lost our way philosophically. He traces the mistakes in the philosophy of science back to David Hume who was a philosopher in the 16th century and whose ideas form the basis of our scientific method today. Hume, could have been an emancipator and this is what I find very, very interesting. He may have looked at the world around him and it was at a time when the church had a lot of power and they controlled through superstition. Freire, if he was alive then, may have said that the Church suffered from ‘naive consciousness’.The Church imposed their idea of the world onto the masses and controlled them and can imagine a Hume that could not stand this. He could see that people were suffering because of the way the Church was treating them. It was a time when the Church owned most of the property and the majority of people were peasants. It seems like Hume was a very passionate man that wanted to change the way people understood the world so they would be empowered. So he basically said that the only way we can know anything is if we actually see it so there no such thing as miracles, there is no such thing as superstition. His theories go further than that because ultimately he believed that nothing existed but let’s not go there now. He may have been trying to emancipate people with this statement. He was definitely trying to change the way we viewed knowledge and the production of knowledge. But of course like many methods… it was good at fighting that particular oppression but unfortunately led to another kind of oppression. This is where Bhaskar comes in and he says ‘of course there is more than what we can just see.’He would say that what we see is just an indicator of what is really happening. He called these deeper causalities generative mechanisms. So because of these generative mechanisms there is the potential for certain things to happen in the world and those things can manifest as empirical fact but they may not and that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. So when you are looking at the reasons why things are not working maybe because society is based on inequitable principles, policy has developed in a particular way. There may be all sorts of different reasons why things are happening the way they have. Bhaskar has challenged us to acknowledge that and given us a lot of conceptual tools to try and get to generative mechanisms and actually in a very, very creative way which he calls retroduction which means we can logically look back and say how did we get here. Freire does the same thing. He says the first step to emancipation is considering how did we get here and then how do we imagine a new future. Bhaskar also talks about re-enchanting the world. So that would be his critique of how knowledge is produced. It is a little more difficult to grasp and I haven’t explained it well here but it is worth looking into.
Visvanathan expresses a position that a lot of you will be able to relate to. He is an Indian academic and activist and he has this term called cognitive justice. The way we know the world is based on who we are and it is also based on the context we come from and it can’t be separated from that. So you can’t transpose one knowledge system onto another. It is not saying that there isn’t a truth. It is just saying that in the process of coming to a truth you can’t impose a way of knowing the world. All systems of knowing are not the same and we need to recognise that otherwise we are falling into the trap of normalising western knowledge systems. Visvanathan argues that the only way to work authentically with different knowledge systems is through dialoguing and realising that the way that you actually know is part of your being. He even goes as far to say that it is part of the environment you are in. You and your knowledge cannot be separated from environment.
Participant X: What is the paper?
It is a 2010 paper and he talks about his ideas in relation to the Bhopal Tragedy which killed many people. He poses the question, ‘was this a disaster of the gas explosion or was it a disaster of science in not understanding people and their context.’ The Ebola tragedy is another example. I don’t know if you have read about the mistakes made when addressing the Ebola epidemic. People went into communities to identify people that are infected and put them in quarantine but they arrived in these remote communities dressed in these weird suits, walked into people’s houses and took people’s relatives away. People started hiding their sick relatives and not telling the health workers about the ebola cases. Some even started believing that it was the Europeans in their strange suits who had bought the sickness. Health workers thought the Ebola virus was under control and in actual fact people were just saying ‘I don’t want my relative to be taken away by these strange people in these white suits.’ So that is an example of how people are not acknowledging the knowledge and understanding of people in their environment and then adapting methods to engage with them in a way that makes sense to them.
Visvanathan describes the critique of development work as voiced by grassroots movements. “It is a human rights issue because development projects marginalised and cannibalised the cultures of local people.” He is saying development projects came in and marginalised people even further. The Ebola tragedy is an example of this in some way. Visvanathan argues, “There is an need for a science which sees nature as more than an object, an experiment or a resource but as a way of life and where nature is more than a mode of production, it is a mode of thought.” I love this quote. So nature and the way we are in nature is a mode of thought. It is the way we think and the way we know.
So I’ll end my little session with this which brings us back to South Africa and Steve Biko who said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. When we are engaging in research and education we need to ask ourselves, is our research addressing this? Is it freeing minds from the oppressor or further entrenching this grasp. The Oppressor does not necessarily have to be a person it can be a system of knowledge. It can be a political tool. It can be an economic tool. For me, this is always the question, if the mind of the oppressed is not with the oppressor how much can we do and I do get the point that one of you made that we may never reach equality in an exact sense but I do believe we can reach some sense of emancipation.
Participant X: You started with the example of the Kat river and what happened there so with this other knowledge, for example what Visvanathan is saying, how would one do that differently? How would one do Ebola differently?
Jane: I’ll speak about the Kat example. My blind spot there and the blind spot of the theories we were working with was that we underestimated the power of structure so we were working with empowering individual people instead of also realising that we and people exist within a much more powerful and a greater structure that has an impact on everything that we do. So it was understanding where the problem lies which may be what Bhaskar gives us.
Participant X: So what you did could disempower communities because it gives them a sense of potential power when it is not there so it is almost like a personal agenda of trying to deal with guilt in order to empower other people when in fact it could lead to disempowerment.
Jane: Yes that is it exactly. So offering people a sense that ‘oh if you participate in this catchment forum you’ll be able to change decisions around the way water is allocated’ when that may not happen because there are other structures at play and the Catchment Forums exist within these broader structures and can only be as powerful as it can be within these broader structures. If our objective is to change the way water is allocated in this country we may find that actually we are dealing with very, very different instruments and that this particular Catchment Forum may not be the right platform or that the interests of the members is something else, say water service delivery. We also can’t expect an informal organisation to take on the responsibility to change the allocation of water in South Africa. This means dealing with the history of South Africa and with strong economic positions. Bhaskar has this lovely way of looking at social phenomena according to all these different layers from the personal to the global scale. Reality is not just my reality. I know we wish it was. We all have a self centred sense of reality but what we are trying to do is understand collective problems, structural problems. We are trying to understand that issues don’t only manifest at the level of the individual. Issues are multi-scaled. There is the individual in relation to others, the individual in relation to community and then the country which is where the big structures lie – the structures of government, the structure of schools, law, the economy. Then you have the geographical and historical layer which has an equally powerful impact on people’s ability to act and change, for example the way we manage water in Limpopo would be very different to say how water is managed down by the coast. The geographical context has huge impacts on how we deal with management and water allocation. In the Sunday’s River the water is pumped from the Orange into the system and this has implications. We can’t understand our problem unless we understand that. And then there is the global level such as partriarchy, capitalism. Big, big systems in place in the world. So understanding these layers and where the problem lies is important. We may not be able to change some of these but we may be able to tweak at the problem at the community scale or at the national government scale or we may be able to help the individual be more resilient to the context they find themselves in. This is the work of the psychologist right? They don’t focus on changing community structures or national policy, they help the individual to cope with the context they find themselves in. For me it is about being quite practical and saying what can we change and what can’t we change? I will struggle to change patriarchy in my lifetime but I can engage with it at this level in my own life and with the people around me. It’s knowing at what level you can work and also knowing the forces that influence and effect that scale of working that may inhibit or enhance people’s ability to bring about change.
Participant X: From what I’m thinking…. an individual’s desire to change things it not necessarily the way to go there may be other ways of thinking about things and that the relationship between the self is part of it in terms of…. I’m wondering where complexity comes in because complexity for me holds that uncertainty where it is not quite understandable but we are diving into it. It is not always necessarily the right thing to do but it is something, it is doing something which is better than nothing or do we keep on making it so much worse? I’m not sure. Maybe both those things.
Jane: I always go back to Bhaskar. Bhaskar would say that if we find the generative mechanism it will lead to a particular outcome so if it doesn’t we know we haven’t. Complexity theory I have a bit of a problem with as certain theories within the big group of complexity theory can be quite relative so uncertainty gets linked with ‘anything goes’. Of course there is uncertainty there always has been but we can make a decision and choose to act based on careful thinking and the best knowledge we have to date. Uncertainty doesn’t excuse us from being rigorous and thorough. If you adopt a view of ontology that is not relative then it becomes possible to work towards understanding the generative mechanisms of a particular phenomena without making the mistake of positivism. What does this mean? It means that a reality exists but we can only know it through human interpretation such as language. This makes the meaning of what is real relative to context, history, culture and experience. So you can’t say that poverty is relative, poverty is real but the way we understand poverty may be different depending on our different circumstances. Bhaskar argued that we can find the generative mechanisms that create the way the world is right now. We could work at identifying the generative mechanisms that allow poverty to be in the world and then work at removing them. This is what we are doing all the time.
Participant X: What do you mean?
Jane: The way we experience poverty is socially constructed so I experience poverty differently to you but the fact is that there is poverty in the world. That is not socially constructed. This table is here. There is no ways we can say it is a social construction but the way we understand this table, we can construct that in different ways. We have meaning making processes that are socially constructed but our knowledge of the world is not the world. The world exists independently of our knowledge of it. Bhaskar would say there are certain things they make certain things happen. There is a causality, there something that generates something that generates something else but it is very hard to get to those things and we will never get to all of them but we will notice, if we look hard enough. If we keep going back and looking at what has happened we may find a reason why and we can ask ourselves, what if we could take that mechanism away, what would our world be like?
Unless you know your context you can’t even know what the problem really is but we need to understand context at different levels of scale. It is the same for education. You can’t say I’m going to do this training course with somebody unless you understand their context and are designing educational activities that fit that context. Often people think that learning is about going into a situation and giving people knowledge. Education is meaning making so you make meaning with people together – social learning. I would say that unless you understand what people hold – and not only the values they hold around knowledge but the values they hold about what and how they learn…. so often people think that people learn in the same way like we are learning like this but people may learn in a very different way. The study we did around rain water tanks and learning showed us that people learnt more from talking to each other informally over the fences in the garden. Some people in the community had been on a training course but they shared what they had learnt through example – by showing and talking informally.
Participant X: In fact you have already leading me to what I want to comment on. I have always read African researchers and African sociologists. The reason why I say that is because I have interacted with quite a lot of sociologists and anthropologists who are friends of mine and in most cases, in theory they rely on a theory that comes from a very different context from the USA or America or London. So is this not intellectual laziness when we are relying on foreign theories to explain local contexts? You may say you want to adapt it but theories do not necessarily recognise the context that we are talking about because the theories have their own personal history which influences their value at that time.
Jane: I do think that we rely too heavily on theories that are generated externally from our own context. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these theories do not have some value but they may not have the value that is generated from what is known as grounded theory. This is not saying that someone coming from London does not see something that we may not see or the other way around. They may but there are great thinkers in Africa and in South Africa. Often when I have been overseas to conferences the comments that have been made about African, South American or other less developed countries’ research is that it is very rich because our research traditions tend to be more applied research. We test and generate theory in difficult and complex contexts and this gives us an ability to be constructively critical, even about the role of research and how we do research which can enhance particular theoretical positions and develop new ones. If this is true and our strength is in applied research then we should be proud of this and make an effort to share our work as much as possible amongst ourselves and further afield. That is why I returned to Steve Biko at the end because I think there are a lot of South African writers who have a lot to say about education and working with each other.
Participant X: I have a problem here. Our education systems in Africa are patterned after our colonial masters which is absurd. Really. We have a problem with job creation. That is our problem in Africa. People do not have jobs but no one is addressing these issues.
Jane: You should read a paper called ‘Globalising knowledges‘. It looks at three people that have explored this concern that you have that education systems are developed as if we all grow up in a European context rather than education systems developed that respond to the context we belong to. The writer draws on a case study from South Africa,Tibet, Venezuela and India. You are right. The way an education system is structured has as much to say about the dominant values of the ruling group as it has about the knowledge that is held within education systems.
Participant X: The whole eduction system is still designed incorrectly. It hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years and it has been designed to get 18th century workers to work.
Participant X: This is what comes to mind for me when comparing the experiences that I have had coming from poverty stricken parts of the society and then improving as we get education, as well as my experience in 1987 when I went overseas for the first time. I was at Leeds University and traveled to London and places like that. We left here with the impression that everything was a mess in South Africa but when we got there we saw their mess there. There was an area that was called district six where people from outside Bangladesh an other areas had flocked into the UK. They were living in this district six and they were not employed and they were living from prostitution to the extent that when their girls get of age they have to go and take part in the prostitution so they can bring home money for their families. In 1993 I was at Canterbury Church Christ college and there I saw what we thought was so bad in South Africa. We had been liberalised from apartheid and we were there because we thought they were improving our education and improving our lives and maybe we would go back with something better. But for me it was not better because they didn’t care for us as people they just came for lectures and left and if we meet them outside they don’t even look at you. So maybe each person has his own reality or whatever they want to interpret.
Participant X: If you go back to what Steve Biko said we gain all the values and all the realities of taking the country further because if we cannot have a day, we won’t have a night so that is how I see emancipation. If you need to see everyday then you must have a dark night so the best way to balance it is to know you have to pass through something before you get something. Even our education system, it can be an experience of growing the reality of how can we build up the future from our collaborative past and our past experiences.
Jane: A personal example of retroduction. The other comment that you made reminds me.. maybe it will help us with our dilemma. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from there are some generative mechanisms that create society that way everywhere so in a sense we have situations here and we see the same situations oversees, how are these being created because if we can find it here it will probably also apply to a certain extent overseas.
Participant X: Do you believe that diagram you drew is applicable to every society?
Participant X: The levels start differently. There may be triangles at different levels and society poverty in Europe.. well it is their perception of it and the workers, on an absolute scale, may be better off than the bottom scale in South Africa but still.
Jane: Poverty is also more than just a lack of wealth.
Participant X: The exercise you did, someone mentioned is this for a South African context, I don’t think it is. It is very socio-economic context. South Africa yes, the divide is on race because of our history, but if you are here from another South African country and you come from a more middle class sort of more privileged background it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, a middle class perception is similar. It is applicable everywhere.
Jane: Yes, the questions are biased towards socio-economic status. If I had asked different questions about different values maybe there would have been a different pattern in the room.
Participant X: I want to contribute to the very bottom stratum of the pyramid – though these people are sustaining the entire society they are unaware of it. They are dehumanised to an extent that they are not even aware if it.
Jane: And when they do become aware of it?
Participant X: Yes, like last year and the mine workers said, hey we have had enough of this nonsense, we are not going to work and everybody was up in arms saying the South African economy was collapsing.
Jane: This is what Freire would call the magical consciousness where you are not aware of your value, your agency in society. His education system it is all about this … a dialogue with people to realise their value and that they have as much right to name the world as anybody else.
Okay we are running out of time. Let me just make two points. All of you are working in a trans-disciplinary space and this means knowing how your research is contributing to a broader question that you are all trying to answer. If you are trying to answer the question of water security, for example how do make sure that all people have access to water equally then knowing at what level your research is engaged e.g community level of policy level, will help you contextualise your research and make it more meaningful for the people that you are working with. You may be addressing a problem at many different levels of course but if you could articulate this to start with and show what your question wishes to investigate at these levels then it helps other researchers see their work in relation to your own. For example, Participant X’s work is a psychological study. She is investigating this through expressions of the body. Now some of you may think this has nothing to do with your work but if you view Participant X’s work within all the level’s of a social phenomena then you can see that her work is addressing the very important level of how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others. A lot of you have spoken about how oppression affects us on a personal level. This can inhibit our ability to access our agency. One of you said that people don’t realise that they do have agency. Participant X’s research is addressing why people may feel they have a lack of agency at a personal level. This is an important aspect of answering the big question ‘how do we make sure that all people have access to water equally?’ A very scientific study may seem like a waste of time to social scientists who are working at the level of changing policy but if we can understand that this research is looking at the ecological level and that this may give evidence for researchers wanting to have an impact on policy then there are huge links between this work and work at a policy level. We should work at seeing the connections between our work. This does not mean that I now need to become an ecologist as well as a social scientist. It just means that I am able to place, say Participant X’s work, in relation to my own and understand how it is contributing to the bigger question we are all trying to answer.
The other point I wanted to make relates to Participant X’s point that we feel like we are caught up in these structures and how do we bring about change if this is the case. These are my thoughts and don’t know if I’m completely off the path but there seems to be two kinds of research that we can do if research is to contribute to change. The first type of research helps us understand the context that we are working in this includes the biophysical and the social context. A lot of science based studies sit here as well as social studies that critically analyse social structures, agency and phenomena. The point of this research is to understand and question what is happening. We can do this ourselves or we can do this in collaboration with others. The second type of research is about researching how change happens. This type of research investigates the research approaches, methodologies and methods that we use to try and change the world. An example of this kind of research would be an action research project that is investigating a particular way of dealing with a situation – say a study investigating adaptive management in a CMA. The research is investigating the methodology and method of adaptive management as an approach for bringing about change. Social learning is another approach. Many researchers say they are using social learning in their research but what about investigating the implications of using social learning for change? How does a social learning orientation to research or to practice actually enhance emancipation? People could also investigate social movements, educational movements, institutional arrangements and management systems, all of which are developed to bring about change. This helps me to also understand my role in a big trans-disciplinary project. This is what is wonderful about trans-disciplinarity – I don’t have to do everything – so your research may be understanding context and providing an answer to a particular understanding and somebody else may be taking that understanding and thinking about how we bring about the change. Of course the challenge of trans-disciplinary research within the academy is that we are still rewarded for our own personal contribution rather than the contribution we make as a collective. This creates tensions because it almost forces us to protect our little back yard of influence. But we are the ones that can change this. We are the ones that can look at our own agency within the institution of the University and be creative about how we represent the contributions of the collective and assess the individual’s contributions within this. It may mean not having your name in print but the groups name in print which for academics is a big deal. I must admit I’d kinda like it. I don’t enjoy the competitive feel between researchers and the publishing game. I feel it blocks our ability to be more creative, more responsive and less antagonistic about our disciplines and positions. But until the reward system changes it is hard to say to anyone that they should give up on that form of recognition. It is about identity I suppose. What do we identify with? Our progress as an intellectual, our organisation we work for or do we identify with our role in bringing about change in the world? Of course all these identities can be mixed up together but which one do we cultivate the most. If it is the latter, we may go unrecognised at an individual level but the rewards at the level of the collective may be far greater. So you can see thinking about emancipation also means thinking about your own position in the system – if we don’t want to be academics that look away we may find we also need to challenge the current way academics are rewarded for their work and question what reward matters to us.