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Expert and Lay Knowledge in Pacoima

Public Anthropology and an Essential Tension in Community-based Participatory Action Research

Carl A. Maida

This paper explores the role of 'public anthropology' in the dialogue between practitioners of professional and lay knowledge about urban quality of life. The focus is on community building in Pacoima, a working-class Latino community in Los Angeles, and explores how professionals and residents established an arena and moved towards common ground on environmental health issues, including lead and other toxic exposures. Similar to Pacoima, arenas have emerged in the more engaged communities, worldwide, where quality of life issues, such as health care, housing and the environment, are debated. Within these arenas, experts and laypersons have resolved disputes over competing claims about the definition of an issue, and for equity and greater access to common resources, or public goods, despite vast disparities in knowledge and perspectives that have been shaped by divergent occupational techniques, habits of mind and world images.

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Zuzana Hrdličková

Field trips play a significant role in the building of expert knowledge of numerous institutions. So why is their nature and significance for knowledge production rarely discussed in the anthropology of expertise? In this paper, I draw on the particular instance of an expert field trip undertaken by a disaster management organization in the Indian state of Odisha in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin in 2013. I show that field trips are contingent practices defined by their sequential logic, relationships, interests, and by the personal perceptions of people who undertake them. The choice of personnel to carry out this field exercise is fundamental and depends on institutional views of aims and understandings of what constitutes expertise. In line with E. Summerson Carr’s argument that expertise is something people “do” rather than “hold”, I show that enacting expert status serves to assert power and to enable its holder to achieve their aims.

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Expert Knowledge

First World Peoples, Consultancy, and Anthropology

Rohan Bastin, Barry Morris, Janine R. Wedel, Craig R. Janes, Stevan Weine, Ralph Cintron, Ferid Agani, Elissa Dresden and Van Griffith

The essays in this forum collection are concerned primarily with the application of expert knowledge in fields where there is the expectation of considerable cultural, social, and political consequence for human populations, as a result of state, corporate, or non-governmental organizational action. The essays here are, with a couple of exceptions, written by anthropologists whose knowledge—insofar as it may be distinct from others in the social sciences—is based conventionally in a methodology of long-term fieldwork of a small-scale, faceto-face kind, and founded in theoretical orientations which are sensitive to cultural and social difference.

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Dis-orienting Western Knowledge

Coloniality, Curriculum and Crisis

Zeus Leonardo

The decolonization movement is a knowledge project insofar as colonialism was an epistemological form of imperialism. As such, curricular change in the primary grades to university life requires a fundamental reworking of theories of knowledge, if not knowledge itself. To interrogate this problem and pose possible interventions, this article explicates Edward Said’s conceptualization of colonialism as taking place on an epistemic level that orients western knowledge towards non-western ways through a will to dominate. Extending beyond the administrative colonial era, coloniality in the modern era, more appropriately called postcoloniality, transforms as a knowledge relation. Decolonization requires dis-orienting this relationship through Said’s methodology. Finally, the article argues that a ‘travelling curriculum’ poses an alternative against the dominant mode of knowledge that aims to fix and essentialize people, ultimately opening up the known world towards processes of co-existence.

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Intellectual endogamy in the university

The neoliberal regulation of academic work

Ana Luisa Muñoz-García

This article aims to analyse the multiple ways in which the neoliberal regulation of knowledge is negotiated by returning Chilean scholars. The data gathered suggest the construction of knowledge is highly regulated by a principle of intellectual endogamy. Intellectual endogamy is characterised by conservatism, reflected in a lack of diversity in research themes and problems and maintained by a peer-review system that controls scholars’ access to research funds. However, it is also characterised by instrumentalism, which is reflected in the requirements for obtaining research funds, such as publications in indexed journals and discourses of efficiency and productivity. Both facets engender a neoliberal regulation of academic work. This research encourages an expansion of the conversation about how academic mobility affects knowledge construction.

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Tracing creative moments

The emergence of translocal dervish cults in Bosnia-Herzegovina

David Henig

In postsocialist and postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, popular dervish cults are re-emerging after several decades of (semi)clandestine existence due to official bans and repression imposed by the Yugoslav state socialist governmentality. This article explores how an absence of divine knowledge ensuing from this disruptive history—strongly felt among various Bosnian dervishes today—is transformed into spiritual creativity and an improvisatory dynamic mediated by charismatic sheikhs. It traces “creative moments” leading toward the formation of a Bosnian dervish cult and its realignment with translocal networks of dervish lodges to explore the dynamics of divine knowledge and its creation inside these networks. The ethnography presented here suggests that we move a step beyond mere sociological descriptions of how translocal cults are organized across distance to explore in a more nuanced way the historicity and the dynamics of how divine knowledge is (re)created and idiosyncratically appropriated within these networks.

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Paul Sillitoe

This is an introduction to indigenous or local knowledge (IK) in development. After discussing problems of definition, various models to represent relations between, and structure enquiries into, different knowledge traditions are outlined, including the continuum and sphere representations. This discussion includes a summary of points that justify why agencies should seek better to incorporate consideration of local knowledge into development programmes; and sketches the several methodological issues that we have to address to take this work forwards. Finally, this introduction concludes with some comments on the work of the Durham Anthropology in Development (AID) group.

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Recognition and Knowledge

Mapping the Promises and Seductions of Successful Female Futures

Stephanie D. McCall

Today's girls have become spectacles of modern progress and the representation of social desires for success. What has been remarkably unclear in this imagination, visualization, representation, and investment of modern girlhood is what knowledge and what attachments mobilize girls towards their desires for success. In this article I will examine school knowledge and the seduction of rationality and certainty about female futures. I trace some of the effects and affects of curricular knowledge. I examine how girls move ambivalently towards objects of desire, like prestigious colleges, through their desire for recognition, difference, and being exceptional. Using qualitative data collected in a private all-girls school, in this article I bring together feminist poststructuralist theory, curriculum theory, and girlhood studies to attend to affective intensities of spiciness, happiness, and shame and analyze how these disrupt the visualizations of the girls' seemingly unambiguous notions of female success.

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Power/Knowledge Failure

Epistemic Practices and Ideologies of the Secret Police in Former East Germany

Andreas Glaeser

This paper traces the epistemic practices and ideologies that Stasi (East Germany's former secret police) used to construct the GDR peace and civil rights movements during the 1980s as one of the GDR's key enemies. In particular, the paper addresses the question of how communications in organized social encounters that are hierarchized by a cultivation of secrecy (legitimized by a Manichaean worldview) and corresponding myths about the distribution of knowledge and the proximity to an absolute social good have shaped interpretive processes. The particular epistemic style of Stasi is analyzed as a peculiar conflation of ethics and epistemology which was, ironically, profoundly undialectic, that is monothetic, and thus unable to react constructively to interpretive failures in response to a fast changing environment.

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Dow Chemical's Knowledge Factories

Action Anthropology against Michigan's Company Town Culture

Brian McKenna

The article describes my efforts as a public anthropologist/journalist in addressing the official culture of silence in Michigan's colleges, universities and towns regarding Dow Chemical's extensive environmental health pollution and corruption. These sites include Midland, Michigan, home of Dow's international headquarters, and my own residence of East Lansing, site of Michigan State University, the state's largest higher education institution. Both are beneficiaries of Dow largess or philanthropy. This relative silence - which extends to nearly all state media and universities - is remarkable considering the fact that, unlike turn of the century company towns, Dow Chemical operates in a civic culture where thousands of highly educated professionals work in education, government and communications. Democracy is degraded by processes of accumulation, ideology, fear, suppression, conformity, specialization and, importantly, the self-censorship of professionals and academics. With Eriksen (2006) and Hale (2008) I argue for an engaged anthropology where anthropologists step out of their academic cocoons to embrace the local public. This is 'not just a matter of … reaching broader publics with a message from social science … it is a way of doing social science' (Hale 2008: xvii). This case study illustrates how an anthropologist engaged contradictions in order to show how Michigan universities are becoming veritable knowledge factories in service to Eisenhower's feared military-industrial-academic complex.