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Whose Knowledge Counts? A new study exploring cognitive justice in community university collaborations by Dr. Ceri Jayne Davies, University of Brighton


Interested in a delicious and accessible study that will provide lots of good theory and good stories about knowledge and justice? We are pleased to share some information about a very fine recent doctoral study undertaken by Ceri Davies of the University of Brighton’s Community University Partnership Programme. Her study is an excellent addition to the growing literature in cognitive justice, knowledge democracy, and community based research and community university engagement. The questions that Ceri explores are central to our overall development of the theory and practice of this kind of work.  She asks,  1.Is there evidence that community university research collaborations have the potential to generate social change goals? 2. Why do community and social actors decide to collaborate with universities? 3. How can the concept of cognitive justice be understood through this collaborative activity? 4. Do new knowledges emerge?

She used a qualitative research design and conducted fieldwork in Canada and the UK to develop 10 case studies. She interviewed academic and community partners about a project they collaborated on in order to explore how people understood what they were doing together, how knowledge was used, shared and legitimated and how these encounters were framed with respect to social justice. Her conceptual and analytical framework focused on an exploration of deliberative processes of participation and cognitive justice in this landscape.

This thesis makes the case for cognitive justice in community-university engagement in three main areas. The first is to suggest that the participative conditions necessary for cognitive justice include relational practices of engagement and the presence of deliberative characteristics to knowledge creation and use. The second is to argue for an inseparable connection between knowledge and participation in practice, and thus that the degree to which cognitive justice can be considered central to social justice requires practices to go ‘beyond recognition’ of diverse knowledges alone. The third considers the ways in which forms of engagement themselves can be considered cognitively just. I argue ‘doing’ cognitive justice requires new arrangements between researchers and researched which also brings with it ethical and methodological considerations. As Ceri says,“My thesis proposes that cognitive justice offers a language to connect efforts in producing, mobilising and legitimating different types of knowledge within ideas of social justice”
There is an excellent chapter on knowledge, social and cognitive justice that will be just the thing if you are doing a paper or doing some writing and need to find a good source of writers and thinkers all in one place.  Good discussion on knowledge discourses, epistemological assumptions of various knowledge labels, critiques of the scientific monoculture, role of knowledge in public debates and more.  The empirical work in her study come from two communities, one in the UK and one in Canada.  Those who know this field in these two countries well will no doubt be able to identify the locations, but the variety of cases are quite fascinating.

Ceri concludes her study as follows, “My findings position cognitive justice as a valuable and important lens through which to view community-university engagement and its relationship to social justice. The exploration above has indicated how cognitive justice draws attention to the inclusion and exclusion of knowers in practice, but also the need to find an adequate or alternative theory or practice that is congruent with ambitions for epistemic plurality and dialogue in forms of community-university engagement.”
This study provides a good research approach for those working in the global South or the excluded North on issues of justice and knowledge.  It also raises some provocative questions, when will we get a PhD that is co-designed and written with both an academic and a social movement scholar involved?  What do concepts such as cognitive justice, knowledge democracy or decolonisation mean for the curriculum in universities?

Budd L Hall

Whose Knowledge Counts? Exploring Cognitive Justice in Community-University Collaborations-PhD Thesis, University of Brighton, February 2016

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