Whose knowledge matters? Competing and contesting knowledge claims in 21st century cities

Whose knowledge matters? Competing and contesting knowledge claims in 21st century cities

Cities face a challenge of levering their knowledge assets to develop suitable strategies to guide their development to sustainable and secure futures in the face of imminent problems around housing, social services, environment and quality of life. But professionalization of urban governance has constrained the ways in which citizen knowledge can inform these strategic development processes, thereby hindering these vernacular knowledge resources to solve these pressing urban problems. The “Knowledge Matters” project explores the functioning of citizen knowledge in urban decision-making and strategy development projects, to understand how urban management can best respond to these pressing challenges.

The project draws on theories of knowledge sociology, urban politics and sustainable development to foreground the issue of urban dissensuses as arenas where professional meets citizen knowledge. The project develops an innovative methodology for disclosing citizen knowledges, “telling controversial urban stories”, where diverse professional and vernacular knowledges are brought to a common narrative level based around regulated moments of co-production. The project uses four urban controversies to excavate and reveal these citizen knowledges, and codifies those knowledges via these controversial stories into “policy-ready knowledge”, thereby revealing potential mechanisms and barriers to cities better exploiting all their citizens’ specific knowledges.

The primary methodology is by “telling controversial stories”, an innovative interpretative participatory methodology where various stakeholder groups’ knowledge in particular controversies becomes encoded into narrative form. This approach brings together people from different social domains, municipalities, community groups, agencies, NGOs and universities, allowing participants to bring together knowledge from their multiple identities, as residents, as employees, as citizens. The methodology focuses on allowing different knowledge claims underpinning divergent perspectives to be brought together in a single conceptual space, shorn of symbolic power associated with interviewees’ status/positionality. This approach, reflecting an emergent field of transdisciplinary knowledge studies, requires specific training and ethical considerations, provided by dr. Floor Basten from Campus Orleon.

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