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Participatory Research, Cognitive Justice and Knowledge Democracy in French-Speaking Countries of the Global South: The Open Science in Haiti and Africa (SOHA) Project


We have recently received a book curated by Florence Piron, an anthropologist and ethicist at the Université Laval in Quebec, Samuel Regulus, a Haitian anthropologist who is now professor at the Université d’État d’Haïti and Marie Sophie Dibounje Madiba, chief documentalist of the CERDOTOLA (International Center for Research and Documentation on African Tradition and Languages) in Yaoundé (Cameroon).  The book’s title is Justice Cognitive, libre accès et savoirs locaux. Pour une science ouverte juste, au service du développement local durable (Cognitive justice, open access and local knowledge. Towards a fair open science in service to sustainable local development) and it is published by a new Canadian open access book publisher called Éditions science et bien commun. Florence Piron told me in a recent note : “ I am sure that you have understood that the book in itself is a gesture of cognitive justice : plurilingual, authors from the North and the South, men and women, senior and junior researchers, all that in an open access book!” The book with its various formats can be found at https://bit.ly/2lYqNwV. The tantalizing feature of course for those working in English and Spanish is that the bulk of the book is in French. A welcome feature is that summaries of all the chapters are available in English, Creole and other African languages. (This is something we should all be doing?) In terms of taking the pulse of a truly global and plurilingual movement of knowledge democracy, this is very exciting.  The book is one of the outcomes of SOHA project (Open Science in Haiti and Africa), a project that was funded in part by a network of the International Development Research Centre between 2015 and 2017.  The project drew from more than 6000 people, ‘engaged in diverse ways to the construction of a concrete utopia’ from Quebec, Haiti and 18 countries in Francophone Africa. Its website is at https://projetsoha.org.

From their introduction, another science is possible
“Our utopia is based on sharing an ideal and an outrage. Our ideal is to contribute in an egalitarian manner without discrimination to scientific knowledge for a better understanding of the world we live in, a world more welcoming and self-fulfilling where we can live well together and where the abject misery that remains the daily situation for too many families, even in the global North, would have disappeared.

Our outrage is caused by the severe economic and social disparities between the countries of the North and the South.  These injustices are intolerable.  Our outrage is particularly felt in the way that ‘science’ tends to treat knowledge originating in the global South as a form of ‘subaltern’ knowledge (knowledge of the illiterate, peasant farmers, the landless, women….those without power or even knowledge produced in African universities).”       

The project outcomes include two surveys that reached around 1000 participants in 18 countries, 4 international meetings on cognitive justice and open science, a network of emerging science shops in Africa and Haiti, an internet platform for African science available in open access, 30 videos, a MOOC course in construction, an open access publishing facility, two local open science associations and an international community of students, researchers committed to the concept of cognitive justice.

The book is divided into five sections:  (1) cognitive Justice, (2) Open access, (3) local knowledge, (4) universities, society and sustainable local development and (5)open science, the SOHA project-analysis and testimonies. The richness of this book can be seen in the diversity of the writers taking up the themes of the various sections.  The cognitive justice section has a piece by Shiv Visvanathan, the scholar who is credited with drawing scholarly attention to the concept, but the following chapters are written almost entirely by people from Haiti and Africa.  The section on local knowledge draws our attention to oral traditions, to the myth that Creole cannot be a scientific language, to the place of Indigenous knowledge in the global scene.  The section on universities, society and sustainable local development introduces us to the concept of science shops, to links between universities and civil society, and to civic universities in Haiti.  The final section contains among other contributions, eloquent testimonials to the hopes for open science, open access, participatory research, and cognitive justice in Africa, Haiti, Quebec and the world.

This book of 465 pages is a treasure chest.  For those who read in French, you have much joy ahead.  For those without that ability, please make use of the various Internet translation sites to draw out some of the individual jewels in this work.  For those looking for the names of scholars from the global South, here are some fine new voices!                                                             

Rajesh Tandon, Budd Hall and our small but mighty UNESCO Chair team salute the SOHA team for their wonderful accomplishments.  We look forward to finding time and space to share much more in the future.   
Budd L Hall                                                    

[French Version]

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