Tag Archives: local knowledge

Scott, J.C. (1998). _Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed_. New Haven: Yale University Press.

James Scott, Ph.D., Yale University, is the Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and is Director of the Agrarian Studies Program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has held grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science, Science, Technology and Society Program at M.I.T., and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His research concerns political economy, comparative agrarian societies, theories of hegemony and resistance, peasant politics, revolution, Southeast Asia, theories of class relations and anarchism.

This book is a “case against the imperialism of high-modernist, planned social order” (6). Scott advocates that local knowledge (metis, knowledge that comes only through practical experience) is necessary for any plan’s success. In studying sedentarization, Scott found the state tries “to make a society legible” (2) for taxing, conscription, and against rebellion. Modern European statecraft’s dedication to rationalization has had major impacts on society and the environment. In some cases, these reason-led planning schemes have been major disasters, including China’s Great Leap Forward, Russian collectivization, compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are “among the great human tragedies of the 20th century” (3). Less dramatic are the agricultural schemes and the new cities of Brasília and Chandigarh.

“Legibility is a condition of manipulation” (183).

However, when there are disasters, they require this “pernicious combination of four elements” (4):

  1. “administrative ordering of nature and society” (4)
  2. “high modernist ideology” at the state level, namely, an overweening belief in modernity, science, reason. This view is wholly uncritical of modernism and when challenged, retreats into projects of “miniaturization”
  3. an authoritarian state that uses its total power for the scheme’s implementation
  4. a “prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these [the authoritarian state’s] plans” (5)

Ironically, the tragedies of high-modernism were so in two ways. First, the modernists were profoundly arrogant and hubristic. And yet, second, their motivations were well-intentioned; they wanted to make the human condition better. Modernist experts thought they were much more informed than they really were, as well as much smarter than their truly knowledgeable and competent subjects. They consistently sought aesthetic order, and this dimension consistently wound up substituting, per Jacobs (1961) visual order for the real, social thing.

Scott hails Jacobs for her thoughts on diversity and local social knowledge. Evoking her and metis, he makes the following recommendations (345):

  1. “take small steps”  – move, observe, act advisedly
  2. “favor reversibility”  – if you can’t reverse the intervention, you can’t reverse its effects
  3. “plan on surprises” – design in flexibility
  4. “plan on human inventiveness” – assume people can improve on things with eventual knowledge gained

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields

Purcell, R. (2011). Community development and everyday life. _Community Development Journal_, 47(2):266-281.

Rod Purcell is Senior Lecturer and Director of Community Engagement at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include: visual sociology with emphasis on globalization and cultural shifts; urban social theory; psychogeography; community development and education methodologies; community development evaluation methodologies; and photography as a tool for personal and community development.

United Kingdom Occupational Standards for Community Development say: “Community development is a long-term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality, and inclusion” (as cited on 266). This process encourages individuals to collaborate and (1) identify their demands and hopes, (2) act to influence policies affecting them, (3) enhance their own lives, communities, and societies as a whole.

However, there are problems. For one, community development is locally based and yet part of national programming. For another, while community development worker’s rhetoric includes the topics of social change, power relation reconfiguration, social cohesion, and attenuation of exclusionary forces, a 2003 survey demonstrated these workers lacked the theoretical training that might encourage these anti-establishment, pro-radical practices. As such, says Purcell, community development is a “depoliticized activity of the state” (267).

Current theoretical perspectives espouse Antonio Gramsci’s and Paolo Freire’s respective contributions. The latter argues for the development of critical consciousness, and the abandonment of traditional “banking” teaching that separates the knowledge of the teacher and the learner. Gramsci’s view holds hegemony as an explanation for working class interest in both revolution and fascism. Class struggles are ideological as much as they are economic, and true changes come through human social activity. Like Freire, he believed in praxis and that all people had the capacity to be intellectuals: “true education is something that people do for themselves with the help of others, not something that is done to them by experts” (269). Unlike Freire, Gramsci is embedded in a Marxian Europe and cultural conflict. Freire’s post-structural developing world drives his interest in popular culture.

But, harking back to Lefebvre (1991), space matters for all of this. Writers about everyday life include Michel de Certeau (1984), Guy Debord (1983), Henri Lefebvre (1991, 2003, 2008), and Raoul Vaneigem (2006). Certeau’s everyday response to hegemonic power structures, “strategies” and “tactics,” aim to upend authority structures. They are spontaneous and often performative, even transgressive. And such activities include tagging, drug use…all tricky for community development workers.

What kinds of transgressions should community development workers support? Purcell likes the dérive, documenting the SI’s revision of Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s flâneur, wherein participants take purposeless/purposive walks through the urban landscape.

The dérive is good for “producing literature…art, photography, video, street performance, sociological study, social history” (276) and is so a valuable tool in the community development worker’s and citizen’s kit.

The community development worker can ask a series of place- and power-based questions, much like the basic questions taught in media literacy courses. However, adapting these findings from dérives into policies and practices is a thornier task. Purcell says Freire is helpful here in that discussion with locals about the dérives‘ findings might result in strategic discourse that envisions a better life, perhaps methods towards it.

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Eversole, R. (2010). Remaking participation: challenges for community development practice. _Community Development Journal_, 47(10): 29-41.

Dr. Robyn Eversole, Senior Researcher at the University of Tasmania, Australia, is an anthropologist whose work delves into development issues and processes. She studies participatory and place-based development, development governance, cross-cultural development processes, local and community economic development and social enterprise, the role of university in regional development, microenterprise development, microfinance, and migration.

Participation: “a discourse: a way of speaking, signaling (in and implicit binary) that we-as-professionals believe that they-as-communities have something important to contribute to the process of social change” (30).

Participation has a long-held, long-respected tradition of the bottom approach.

“For practitioners deep in conversations about enabling participation, growing social capital, community strengthening, community engagement, or any of the other myriad of terms for local/community participation in development, participation becomes the problem we cannot live without: embedded in our best practice, yet inextricable from it; a central idea, yet unachievable” (31).

Legitimate critiques show participation obscures power asymmetries, understates real difference, and empowers elites and their agendas. However, this totalizing critique isn’t fully appropriate, and in fact the participation problem goes actually deeper than that, bespeaking how formal development agencies see their role as change agents and about development itself. Namely, participation is still about institution to people. The literature shows “how formal institutional leadership continues to define desirable development trajectories” (31).

If community participation is a “mirage” (32), where does this leave community development advocates? Gaventa (2005) says that for community development to work, the development organizations must change with the communities themselves, to reconfigure “the interactions about communities, professionals, and institutions into a truly ‘participatory space'” (32). Participation has really worked in just one direction to date, so the real focus should be on making it multi-directional.

That said, here are the challenges to participatory development processes. First, determining whose knowledge counts. The situated knowledge of the local does what the expert’s cannot possibly, which is the stock of possibilities and constraints. The community also sees the interrelationships, the “seamless fabric of lived experience” (Latour, as cited on 34). Even though their relationships are permeable, there remains the sticking point between communities and experts, namely that the latter are the only ones with valuable knowledge. Second, deciding whose institutions to use. Communities do have their own institutions, though formal development often perceives itself as having “best practices.” The desire for bottom-up change is sometimes hindered by participation fatigue or strategic exclusion, when community members distance themselves from well-intended projects. Third, remaking participation. One can’t make another participate, so the challenge is how to make the practitioners participants.

“…there is a need for translation agents who are comfortable in the circles of both the powerful and the powerless, and who are able to facilitate the journeys of both” (37).

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Burnett, R. (2007). Projecting Minds. In _Media Art Histories_, O. Grau, ed. Cambridge and London: The MIT Press.

Ron Burnett, author of Culture of Vision: Images, Media, and the Imaginary (1995) and How Images Think (2005), is the President of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and former Director of the Graduate Program in Communications at McGill University. He’s authored over 150 published articles and book chapters and was named Educator of the Wyar by the Canadian New Media Association in 2005. In 2010, the French government honored him with an Order of France: Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

“Interactivity then cannot be predicated on or predicted by the design of the game or any medium. The challenge . . . is not to make too many assumptions about the behaviors of players or viewers” (310).

Here Burnett unpacks the history of the “‘fabrication’ of audiences” (312) and proposes that photography and film factor heavily in this movement. In comparing photography and cinema, Burnett outlines several reasons media art processes and the art itself offer much to planning.

Re documentation, Jean Luc Godard often complained about photography and cinema’s close relationship and deep differences. Photography resists time, documenting single moments. Harking back to Groys, photography conveys the aesthetic, whereas cinema, poetics and the possibility for a life narrative. While the former communicates a lot of information, it cannot stand for the whole of a film.

“Projection allows audiences to visualize the effects of frames in motion” (319).

That immersive experience–and this is key–depends not just on the technological apparatuses “but also on the capacity of the user to fill in the gaps between what is there and what cannot be there” (331). Local knowledge and context matter.

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