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?