Drafted by Lonnie Rowell and Meagan Call-Cummings, March 2020
Our Mission and Purpose
Through the Knowledge Democracy Initiative, we seek to join with other (P)AR scholars to demand “inclusion, democracy, and respect for local knowledge emanating from lived experience of the specific context and culture” (Wood & McAteer, 2017, p. 252). We will work towards a future in which this inclusion, democracy, and respect is at the center of knowledge creation processes, rather than at the fringes, which is where we see it now. We believe that the conceptualizations of truth that have governed post-positivist thinking will almost naturally, albeit perhaps painfully to some, grow more “multipled, complex, and partial” (Dennis, 2018, p. 109), and we wish to celebrate such growth.
We plan to take action in the following ways:
- Engage those who have been pushed to the fringes and are now surviving and thriving in an existence of structural and economic precarity (Fine, Torre, Frost, & Cabana, 2018; Frost, Fine, Torre, & Cabana, 2019).
- Rigorously pursue action research and PAR approaches based on combining academic and grassroots notions of research and “bridging of substantial methodological, conceptual, and epistemological disparities” (Rappaport, 2017, p. 148).
- Demonstrate the capacity to align participatory research in diverse forms with epistemologies that have the potential to reimagine, to heal, and to transform, including epistemologies of resistance (Larrabee, 2006; Medina, 2013), of rupture, and of rebirth.
- Innovate and experiment with the creation of knowledge democracies in diverse public and private domains of professional practice, starting with education and expanding to a variety of other contexts and domains.
Our first step is to reimagine how and where we create spaces for resistance through dialogue which invites and engages epistemological diversity and pushes back against the polarization and radicalization of ideas and knowledge. We begin by acknowledging the history of ontological and epistemological violence in order to move toward a more just and peaceful future (Milojević & Inayatullah, 2018; Giroux, 2014). Indeed, the future of knowledge democracy lies both in the looking back and in the moving forward.
Meagan’s (Call-Cummings, 2015) web-based dissertation serves as a useful example of how we intend to proceed. Realizing that producing a traditional dissertation essentially inaccessible to her co-researchers, a group of 52 ‘undocumented’ Latinx high school students in rural Idaho, USA, would work against the democratic epistemology she embraced, Meagan decided to create an online dissertation. This website opened up the possibilities for both dissemination and continued participatory knowledge creation: simple strategies like opening a comment function on every page of the website, co-constructing curricular opportunities for other school groups to engage the findings from the research, and documenting the 18-month process in the student co-researchers’ own words without transcribing their handwriting are meaningful approaches to using the internet as a tool for democratic participation, mobilization, and knowledge creation.
The Present Moment
Three social domains are on our team members’ minds as March 2020 unfolds in real time:
- Public Health. As COVID-19 ravages countries and communities without discrimination, every aspect of our lives from how we work to how we learn to how we secure basic necessities has been called into question. We hope that a silver lining to the rapid spread of this disease and its multisectoral effects may be a recommitment to and redefinition of community. This is an opportune moment to both reflect and take action, to embrace the possibilities the internet holds to highlight epistemological diversity and foster a renewed engagement with knowledge democracy.
- Civic Literacy. In the US and many other countries in the Global North and South, civic literacy rooted in values of democratic participation has been eroding (e.g. in the US, see Giroux, 2014). We believe that what is urgently needed are efforts to practice knowledge democratization in the context of small group relations and social innovation and experimentation rooted in the creation of dialogic spaces. We need efforts that start from the understanding that diverse knowledge systems exist and have agency in communities, sub-cultures, nations, and institutional spaces. A new civic literacy built on democratic values calls for, first, practicing listening and empathy, second, respecting the diversity of knowledge systems, and third, working towards reconciliations of differences.
- Climate Change. Although there are numerous dimensions of epistemological conflict, there is no area of civic life in which such an approach is more urgently needed than the climate change crisis. Evidence of applications of action research to climate change is growing (e.g. https://www.weadapt.org/subject/participatory-action-research), but much more work is needed. According to the most current research by the United Nations, the inhabitants of this planet have about 10 years to make the changes needed to reduce levels of toxic pollution and planetary endangerment.
Note: All references can be found in the Reference List.