A Line Between Helping and Stifling

      2 Comments on A Line Between Helping and Stifling

One idea that I saw cropping up throughout the conference that I really liked was the use of local knowledge in conjunction with western scientific traditions. Associated with this, though, were also issues of tension between the community and and scientists. (I’d like to clarify that I am specifically talking about scientists associated with StfP-esque movements and not scientists within the corporate system, which are a whole other story.) I’d like to bring up discussion on how to unite these two traditions of knowledge and avoid the situation wherein scientific elitism steamrolls (or is felt to steamroll by the community) local knowledge and autonomy.

The first case I heard in which there was resentment of scientists by a local community was during the first panel discussion. Brita Fischer, who spoke mainly about the acquisition and functioning of the Helen Keller Collective, said that people felt that StfP had too much control over the magazine they published because of their location, which was a ghetto that bustled with crisis and social unrest. I think the issue was that people felt that the scientists were taking advantage of the local community and magnifying its problems to further their own goals rather than being sensitive to community and cautious in their discussion of its problems. Perhaps in this case, more sensitivity to the wishes of the people combined with actively engaging in the community, developing relationships, and making StfP’s work more transparent might have helped put people’s minds at ease.

Other stories of scientists both working effectively with communities but also creating conflict between the two groups came up a lot in the StfP in the World panel on Sunday morning. Tensions that had arisen in Puerto Rico, China, and especially Vietnam were discussed. Most problems seemed to center around what scientists thought was best for whichever community they were working in, as contrasted with what local people (and local scientists in the case of Vietnam) wanted for their community. In Vietnam, it seems that a balance was struck in that both sides’ concerns were addressed, and scientists worked on projects that both suggested. However, this story (and many of the stories that we heard at the conference) were told from the SftP perspective and not from the perspective of the People. This detail may be the key to opening channels of discussion between scientists and communities and resolving some of these local tensions. After all, if the conference taught me anything it is that, in the words of Kelly Moore, we should be focusing on where the population is, not where knowledge is produced (because knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the few); and that we should question science. For whom is it? And on what terms?

2 thoughts on “A Line Between Helping and Stifling

  1. Deneb C

    we should be focusing on where the population is, not where knowledge is produced (because knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the few); and that we should question science. For whom is it? And on what terms?
    This is what is referred to as “monopolizing” science. It’s almost as if we are participating in the evolution of science solely to flex our muscles. Are we advancing science and technology for the betterment of “the people”? Or is it really all about money and the “race” to the top? Is there even a “top”? Where and when does it end? Is there an end? What would science look like if it truly was “for the people”?

  2. Purple

    As someone who has worked in activist activities and has been in the environment since I was a child, I can attest that it is hard to both work for a cause and to please and include locals. A personal example of this in my life was when a local factory burned to the ground. The land needed to be treated and cleaned as the factory was a big polluter from the late 19th Century to the late 20th Century. Well meaning, but short sighted, community environmental activist eventually came to the neighborhood as the land was not being cleaned. They placed signs in front of all the apartment buildings stating such sayings as “This building is toxic” and other slogans. This did not sit well with the neighborhood who felt that upper class know it alls were invading the neighborhood and shaming them for something they can’t control. The land remains polluted and untreated to this very day, though the city will often either lie or forget no one did a thing and will state it is clean.

    A second similar incident involving another neighborhood I lived in was activist once again coming into the area and placing up signs stating that the area was dangerous and filled with STDs and that you could get something that could cause you bodily harm or death if you so much interacted with someone in the neighborhood. Once again, the people who lived their were feeling that sheltered upper class types were shaming them and spreading the sexist, racist and homophobic views they were supposed to be against. The activist stated they were stopping human trafficking and sex slaves. The people in the neighborhood felt they had no idea what they were talking about and resented others coming into their area and creating so much drama to help support their own cause at the expense of innocent people.

    I can agree with your post as I have seen these two examples and several more of what your wrote about happening in some form even on a more local level.

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