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The future of rural and environmental expertise: Transdisciplinary knowledge(s), extension, and co-production for sustainability

Working Group 6: The future of rural and environmental expertise: Transdisciplinary knowledge(s), extension, and co-production for sustainability

Kirsty Blackstock [7], Jeremy Phillipson [1], Alex Koutsouris [2], Philip Lowe [1], Sally Shortall [3], Gianluca Brunori [4], Artur Cristóvão [5], Audrey Verma [6], Anke Fischer [7]
1: Newcastle University, UK; 2: Agricultural University of Athens, Greece; 3: Queen's University Belfast, UK; 4: Università di Pisa, Italy, 5: University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, Portugal, 6: University of Aberdeen, UK; 7: James Hutton Institute, UK

Papers are invited to this Working Group that explore the nature and future of rural and environmental expertise. We are experiencing an enormous growth in knowledge and in access to knowledge. This challenges prevailing models of how knowledge is produced, circulated and used. Functions of knowledge production and consumption are becoming more distributed and intermingled. This is breaking down traditional hierarchies which were founded a scarcity of formal knowledge and which reinforced a sharp divide between knowledge producers and users. Thus there is a new emphasis on socially distributed expertise as being key to living and intervening in the world. i.e. the skilful deployment of knowledge, skills, experience and other technical capabilities. Expertise counters the ideological claim of science as being the only source of objective information, evidence and discovery on which sound decisions and technological developments should be based. But if we reject that claim, what are the implications for the way rural and environmental actors learn, organise and transmit knowledge or resolve problems?

We propose to host three sessions taking three different perspectives on expertise:  extension processes; networks of expertise; technologies and modes of knowledge production and to have a final session that explore the emerging themes around the future of rural and environmental expertise. Please note which of the four sessions you think would be the most suitable home for your short paper upon submission.

Extension for Sustainability (Sub convenors: Koutsouris and Cristóvão)

‘Conventional' extension/advisory services, still largely dominated by the transfer of technology model, are instrumental within a productivist paradigm and promote innovations which, although appear to be reliable, avoid the changes and contribute to agricultural system's ‘drift into failure'.  Nevertheless, at the same time, the call for alternative models emerges with extension/advisory services are called upon in new roles, as for example promoting forms of sustainable agriculture, the generation of appropriate knowledge (transdisciplinarity) and innovations (in niches), empowering family farms to overcome a certain ‘lock-in' with regards to change, etc., taking a holistic/systemic approach. Therefore, the generation (top-down technological fix vs. co-production) and the aims/meaning of innovations (for whom and for what), as well as extension methodology (top-down vs. participatory), are questioned. Moreover, the implementation of ‘participation' (and its repercussions) is challenged.  We invites papers at both theoretical and practical level focusing on issues such as:  approaches and practices relating to animation, capacity building, empowerment, facilitation, networking, brokering and training; methods and tools relating to systemic and multi-stakeholder (participatory) approaches;  building (and constraints) of appropriate/innovative mechanisms/ structures/ platforms to support sustainable development processes ; and training of the animators, change agents, facilitators, catalysts, brokers - or simply development-extension workers.

Networked rural expertise (Sub convenors: Phillipson, Lowe, Shorthall and Brunori)

How do science and expertise come together in the rural: that place where practical expertise has always been highly valued? Networked models of rural development are now taking precedence, the premise is that the development of rural areas should seek to realise locally-generated knowledge and skills, and enrich them through interaction with external ones. So while the resourcefulness and resilience of local businesses, households, community groups and voluntary organisations are crucial, other actors with national and global connections also have a vital role to play in linking rural localities into broader circuits of capital, power and expertise. The shift to a networked model of rural development therefore changes the way we think about how expertise is generated and transmitted, as well as our rationale for knowledge generation. Our aspiration isn't just for more science, but for better informed and skilled rural citizens, communities, businesses and professionals. So that through their expertise they can tackle their own problems and more efficiently learn from elsewhere. Such is the appropriate response to the global instability that rural areas face both environmentally and socio-economically that makes every single community, enterprise and region a site of experimental adaptation.  Illustrative questions include: How is the expertise of rural actors (professionals, farmers, fishers, businesses, residents etc.) constituted and how can it be better recognised and validated? How can we improve the functioning of expertise exchange to strengthen the expertise of rural actors in addressing rural challenges and to stimulate social learning? How are knowledge and expertise exchanged and mobilised within networks for rural development? Who are the critical intermediary agents in exchange of rural expertise and how are their roles performed? How are theories of rural development linked to theories of knowledge and expertise? And What are the implications of expertise exchange for the conduct of rural studies?

Technologies of knowledge production (Sub convenors: Verma, Fischer and Blackstock)

We see papers that explore how different processes of knowledge production work to subvert or uphold the neoliberal agenda. Discourses around ecosystem services, natural resource extraction and sustainable intensification are areas where scientific knowledge claims co-exist with alternative ways of understanding the natural world. For example, new technologies (such as remotely controlled cameras) and processes of knowledge production (such as citizen science) can be used to enhance deliberative democracy or disrupt discourses by policy elites. However, they are often also used to ‘discipline' human-nature relationships for neoliberal ends such as providing evidence to allow commodity production to continue. Access to such evidence-making processes is arguably still restricted to scientific elites, making it difficult to scrutinise how knowledge is mediated by technologies in such practices. The increased interest in how research and ‘scientific' knowledge can influence how decisions are made is therefore both a symptom of the neoliberal world and an opportunity for a reimagining of the way that expertise is framed, developed and implemented. This challenge puts academics and their co-researchers at the heart of struggles over environmental and rural governance. We would welcome papers that provide empirical examples of transdisciplinary research engagement with technologies (e.g. models, GIS maps, visual methods etc), particularly where these papers share critical perspectives on how knowledge production is co-opted into the neoliberal project.

To discuss your ideas or ask for further information, please contact:

Dr. Kirsty Blackstock

Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group

James Hutton Institute

Aberdeen AB15 8QH or 01224 395291