Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada

By Peter Park; Mary Brydon-Miller et al. | Go to book overview

production in the hands of a few must be altered if we are to realize a real political democracy. The concentration of dominating knowledge in the hands of the few, allied with the power to proclaim it "official," is also producing new debates about what constitutes genuine democracy in a knowledge society. In their conservative neo-elitist forms, the arguments are for greater government by expertise, and against the "irrationality" of participation by the masses in the knowledge production system. In their liberal form, these arguments are for greater access and more equal opportunity for all members of the public to the benefits of the existing knowledge system and paradigms. But in their most radical form, these arguments recognize that it is not enough simply to democratize access to existing information. Rather, fundamental questions must be raised about what knowledge is produced, by whom, for whose interests, and toward what ends. Such arguments begin to demand the creation of a new paradigm and organization of science--one that is not only for the people, but is created with them and by them as well.

Genuine popular participation in the production of knowledge has implications, of course, not only for the realization of classical notions of democracy but also for the body of knowledge that will be produced. By altering who controls knowledge and what knowledge is produced, such participation may also change the very definition of what constitutes knowledge. For example, given a chance to participate in the production of knowledge about products, not simply in the production of productions, the Lucas workers chose to develop plans that met basic social needs, not that served as instruments of war. Given the opportunity to define the reasons for poverty through self-analysis, the participants in the Appalachian Land Ownership Study gave a very different set of reasons than had been developed by the mainstream social scientists. The vision and view of the world that is produced by the many in their interests will be vastly different than that produced by the few. The believer in democracy must also have faith that this participatory knowledge of tomorrow will be more humane, rational, and liberating than the dominating knowledge of today.


NOTE
1.
Based on report by National Science Foundation, Federal Funds for Research and Development, Surveys of Science Resource Series, 1984, vol. 32, p. 170. "External challenge" is the phrase used by Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, in a similar measurement. It includes research and development funds allocated to the Department of Defense, NASA, and a portion of the funds to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

-40-

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