SPF Launches New Essay Series

By Eunsook Hong

In June of 2017 more than 300 people gathered at the Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, for a social experiment in “Knowledge Democracy.” The daylong event – the 1st Global Assembly for Knowledge Democracy (GAKD) – was organized by the Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA) in partnership with the global Pedagogy, Education, and Praxis (PEP) Network based in Australia, Europe, and South America. The GAKD convened June 16, 2017, the day after the conference ended. SPF President Lonnie Rowell co-chaired the Assembly with Australian professor and PEP core leadership group member Christine Edwards-Groves.  

Knowledge Democracy is a social movement initially established in relation to the organizing of a participatory research network in 1978.[i]  It gained increasing interest and recognition beginning in the 1990s. According to Rowell, “knowledge democracy is a term that is rooted in opposition to the view that only university-based knowledge systems should ‘count’ as legitimate sources of knowledge.”  Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Sociology professor, author and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, argues that a new ‘ecology of knowledges’ is needed to counter the injustice of what he calls ‘epistemicide,’ that is ‘the murder of knowledge.’[ii]  Knowledge democratization initiatives seek to embrace the idea of an ecology of knowledges and to address the historical legacies of colonialization and oppression in relation to indigenous populations as well as any number of groups that have been marginalized and made invisible through the force of dominant narratives regarding whose knowledge counts. 

As the Assembly for Knowledge Democracy neared its five-year anniversary in 2022, the event organizers, led by SPF President Rowell, invited more than 20 participants and Assembly leaders to submit Reflections on the event for publication by SPF. The essays will address how the Assembly was created, the hopes and aspirations of the designers, the experience of the day and how it has impacted the lives of some of the organizers and attendees, as well as the successes and shortcomings related to what took place. SPF anticipates publishing the series in three parts, with approximately 5-6 essays in each part. On May 20 SPF published Part 1, with five essays published to a new category in the SPF Knowledge Base, https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/kb-browse/reflections/.  

Rowell also indicated that the timing of the Series is important given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the larger threats to democratic societies. In his words, “The Series also comes on the heels of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and a subsequent massive refugee and humanitarian crisis in Europe. This crisis reflects an increasingly violent and global effort to destroy democracy.” Rowell also stated, “I believe this is the crux of the matter for those of us who value action research and all forms of participatory and practitioner research. To the extent that we understand that the spirit of democracy lies at the heart of our approaches to knowledge production and dissemination, we understand that the terrible plight of Ukraine is our plight as well.” SPF is publishing the Series On Knowledge Democracy in the face of this threat and, as Rowell sees it, “we stand in solidarity with all those resisting the efforts to impose authoritarianism around the world.”[iii]

[i] Hall, B.L. and Tandon, R. (2017) ‘Decolonization of knowledge, epistemicide, participatory research and higher education’. Research for All, 1 (1), 6–19. DOI 10.18546/RFA.01.1.02.

[ii] De Sousa Santos’ 2014 book Epistemologies of the South: Justice against epistemicide makes an in-depth case.

[iii] see Rowell’s blog on this issue:  https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/a-morning-after-the-ukraine-putin-and-the-attack-on-democracy/