University of Sussex
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Ways of knowing of farmers and scientists: tree and soil management in the Ethiopian Highlands

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posted on 2023-06-08, 18:08 authored by Birgit Habermann
The Ethiopian Highlands have been studied extensively, hosting a large amount of research for development projects in agriculture and forestry over several decades. The encounters in these projects were also encounters of different ways of knowing that were negotiated by the actors meeting in the space provided by the projects. This research explores these encounters and the social worlds they are embedded in, drawing on actor-oriented approaches as well as theories of narratives and framing. Ways of knowing and citizen epistemologies are taken as a lens to understand the role of identities in knowledge production and use. The two case studies were agroforestry research projects in the Ethiopian Highlands. The research followed a range of qualitative and ethnographic research methods. Different types of farmers and scientists meet in the case studies. I recognise that they all have individual agency, nevertheless I use the terms ‘scientist’ and ‘farmer’ in this thesis. I use the terms to describe certain groups of actors who all draw on different ways of knowing, and different value systems, when interacting with each other and their environment. The results indicate that the importance of social worlds at different scales and the contexts of research projects tend to be underestimated. In spite of good intentions scientific methodologies, terminologies and narratives tend to dominate. Scientists in the case studies acknowledged the existence of farmers’ ‘indigenous’ knowledge, but they determined the value of knowledge by its scientific applicability and the replicability of experiments. Research systems force the scientists into a certain modus operandi with limited possibilities to experiment and to respond to the complexities and diversities of people's social worlds. Farmers in the case studies preferred observation from their parents, observing from others or the environment as a way of learning and gaining knowledge. Depending on their personalities and their life histories they also relied on alternative ways of knowing rooted in spirituality, emotions and memories. Powerful influences on ways of knowing resulted from the way languages and authority had been used. These often led to the exclusion of marginalised community members from access to knowledge and technologies. Unfortunately, common narratives prevailed in the case studies, and alternative ways of knowing were often marginalised. By acknowledging different ways of knowing and the importance of different social worlds and different ways of doing research, both scientists and farmers could benefit and develop more sustainable pathways for agricultural and forestry land use.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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